Pacific Spirit High School
We have imagined it,
and we are creating it.
In response to many years of keen interest from parents and teens, Pacific Spirit School is expanding in September 2020 to offer a High School program, beginning with an intake of students in Grade 8 and 9, where teens feel safe and cared about, have room for passion-based learning and inquiry, work collaboratively with peers and mentors, build leadership and entrepreneurial skills, pursue academic challenges, and make daily time for mindfulness. Students will stay with their cohort of 20 students for all their classes, as well as a small number of core educators allowing them to really know and be known by their teachers.
Our High School’s philosophy and approach
We are grounded in the same core values that have guided our elementary school for over 30 years, but we have customized our high school program specifically to embrace and meet the unique developmental needs of teenagers.
We will be working closely with Patti Drobot, a registered professional counsellor with 20 years’ experience working with teenagers and 10 years’ experience as Adjunct Faculty in the Neufeld Institute, along with our understanding of the latest neuroscience research into how the adolescent brain works, to shape everything from how we teach our curriculum to how we structure the school day, all to ensure that our program is tailored to a teenager's developing brain.
Our academic program will cover the BC curriculum and we will employ certified teachers. But our students’ academic journeys are far from cookie-cutter – each student in our high school will embark on a pace of academic challenge co-created with their educators based on their unique learning style, whether they are passionate about STEM or social justice or both.
Adolescence is a time of great change, both physically, and mentally. Dr. Gordon Neufeld refers to an “explosion of awareness” which can present an overwhelming amount of new thoughts and feelings for our teens to navigate. We are deeply committed to supporting our students along this journey. Time to share and reflect will be part of our daily schedule. We will empower our students with strategies to regulate their emotions, handle social conflict, form positive relationships, set and achieve goals, and make responsible decisions.
Many schools are shifting to project-based and inquiry-based learning, which we fully embrace in our high school program, though we take it one step further by incorporating passion-based learning. It’s a model that was invented at Google in 2007 to give each employee the opportunity to dedicate a percentage of their work week to a project they came up with and that was deeply meaningful to them. Progressive schools around the world have started to adapt this idea of “learning based on one’s passions or interests” into their educational programs with phenomenal outcomes. As one passion-based educator described it: “The students become unstoppable.”
Being a teen can be really stressful! Mindfulness is a powerful way to handle stress, and live life more fully. By teaching our students simple mindfulness skills tailored to teenagers, our aim is to give them a tool to help them feel calmer when they’re stressed and more focused when they have to do something difficult or complicated.
When a teenager engages in the arts, they develop motivation and confidence, and they expand their creative and dynamic ways of thinking. As with our elementary school, we are dedicated to making the arts a regular part of our high school program. Classes will be taught by talented specialists in each area and include dance, choir, visual arts and drama.
Our school day goes from 9:30am to 4:30pm, allowing students to arrive better rested. Researchers such as Dr. JoAnn Deak have proven that teens need on average nine hours of sleep, and that if we want high school students to retain what we have taught them that day, we need them to sleep well that night. Additionally, teens benefit most when they sleep according to their natural circadian rhythms, which means they naturally stay up later and need to sleep in past the time when most high schools are deep into first period. The New York Times has published several studies showing that high schools with later start times see behaviour problems diminish and test scores rise.
Recent years show a troubling increase in the number of teenagers with long-term depression and anxiety. Our educators will use proven pillars of positive mental health education to help our students navigate their teen years with resilience and a positive outlook, and move into adulthood with a sense of connection, purpose and life satisfaction.
Our school culture values initiative over compliance, even though it’s harder to measure. Our students feel comfortable – and even rewarded – by taking risks in learning. As Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.” We respect our students’ opinions, and we will make space for educators to listen and observe, as well as teach and mentor.
We believe teenagers need to practice both being leaders and working collaboratively with others. We give students opportunities to motivate their peers, take initiative, and make plans and execute them, while also cultivating their teamwork skills so they learn to compete not against each other, but against the world’s most pressing problems. In the working world today, even the most high-powered CEOs are putting aside self-interests and collaborating with rival companies. It’s called “collective impact,” and it’s a growing trend that we foster in our classrooms every day.
Recent research conducted at Stanford University found that high school students who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance in their lives, tension with their parents, and alienation from society. Our homework philosophy is reflected in more and more schools across the US and Canada, suggesting that the best results for a high school student's ongoing academic success and positive mental health come from assigning no more than an hour of homework a night (and only if it’s meaningful work; no uninspiring busywork!), and no more than two to three nights a week.
Inspired by the success of our Monday-to-Thursday elementary school model, we are excited to bring the same schedule to our high school. We anticipate that our students will use their Fridays to pursue passion projects, bond with their classmates outside of school, for activities as a family, or just to have quiet time to be with themselves to lean into that vital teenage task of figuring out who they are. Teachers and students come back on Monday refreshed and focused.
We know that the classroom is only one environment for learning, and the world outside our doors is rich with educational opportunity. Our educators will help connect students with mentors and organizations outside the school to make their learning real. Students might attend performances and exhibits, intern or shadow professionals, launch an entrepreneurial venture, or perform community service. We will also invite community members into the school to teach about their areas of expertise. A common question that high school students ask is: “Does what I’m learning in this subject really matter in the outside world?” When students see their learning applied outside of the classroom, they answer that question with a big “yes,” which has a significant impact on knowledge retention and overall engagement in the classroom.
Frequently Asked Questions
We will be launching our high school at St. James Community Square, in the heart of Kitsilano at 3214 West 10th Avenue, easily accessible by transit. We will have the exclusive use two days per week to the 4,000-square-foot main hall with a full stage suitable for our arts and performance programming. The other two days per week, our program will take place in a large multi-purpose room with lots of natural light in the same building. We are excited to launch our high school in such a beautiful space that is dedicated to educational, cultural, recreational and social activities, not to mention the fun P.E. options with having Phoenix Gymnastics in the same building!
In the spirit of our elementary school tuition model, we want to offer the best high school program within a tuition range that is accessible to as many families as possible. Our current estimate is that our annual tuition will be between $8,000 and $10,000/year.
We will hire two BC-certified teachers who will each be in the classroom two days per week, as well as one support educator, for the cohort of 20 students. As with our PSS elementary school, we look forward to also bringing subject experts into the program to lead our arts-enriched program courses in dance, choir, drama and art. As our program expands to grade 10-12, we plan to hire additional subject-specific teachers.
We are passionate believers in the benefits of collaborative, non-hierarchical, mixed-age classrooms so there will be many opportunities for students from multiple grades to learn together, as well as times when it's appropriate for students in one grade to learn together as a unique group. Most importantly, we plan to establish a framework where every student can work at their own level and is encouraged to share their different strengths and interests with the group. Further to our philosophy of mixed-age learning, we plan to incorporate regular field trips so our students can extend their learning to the “adult world,” as well as collaborate on projects with our elementary school so our teenagers can experience the rewarding opportunity of mentoring and nurturing younger children.
School will start at 9:30am and finish at 4:30pm, and run Monday to Thursday with every Friday off. The first half hour of each day will be a time to reconnect with educators and peers, as well as a daily guided mindfulness practice, with academic-focused instruction beginning at 10:00am.
We have every intention of adding an additional grade to our high school program each year until we are a full Grade 8-12 high school. Most importantly, our program aims to equip students with the academic foundation and social-emotional wellbeing to navigate the transition to any program they choose to pursue during high school or beyond.
Yes, our certified educators will be covering the BC curriculum as required by the Ministry of Education.
There will be one full-time BC-certified teacher in each class of 20 students, along with at least one other full-time support educator.
We intend to add one additional grade each year until we are a full Grade 8-12 high school by 2023.
For our high school's launch in September 2020, we are focusing on the Grade 8 and 9 program. Core curriculum for this program in Math, Science, English, French and Social Studies will follow provincial standards for grade 8 and 9. We will also be working with a registered professional counsellor who has 20 years’ experience working with teenagers to ensure that how we teach these courses is customized to the teenage brain. Our program’s focus on social-emotional learning, leadership and teamwork, interpersonal skills, positive mental health, mindfulness, fitness, and arts-enriched programming will be shaped in dynamic partnership between the educators we hire, a professional counsellor, subject experts in the community, and Heidi Anderson, PSS principal and founder.
As a small school, we aren’t able to offer competitive sports leagues. However, we emphasize fitness for life. Young people need to be physically active in order to learn. We will incorporate movement periods every day for our students to stretch, walk, jump, run, dance, do sit-ups, play pick-up soccer, and a multitude of other activities to help them use their muscles, stretch their legs, get some fresh air, focus, and digest what they just learned. Our long-term goal is to leave our students with positive health habits for life. We also have an exciting opportunity by being located in the same building as Phoenix Gymnastics to integrate gymnastics into our P.E. program.
Technology will be used mindfully where it supports our students’ learning. We are not anti-technology; in fact, we feel strongly that we can help teenagers develop healthy social media and technology habits now to positively impact their mental health in the long-term. All students will be required to bring their own laptop to school every day.
The good news in starting with a Grade 8/9 curriculum is that any classroom can be transformed into a junior high science lab! The BC grade 8 and 9 science curriculum takes a generalist approach. As we expand to a full Grade 8-12 high school, we will offer separate science courses in an appropriate laboratory environment. Our science program will be built to engage students in both theory and hands-on experiments using in-class equipment, on-line resources, invited speakers and programs, and field trips to some of the many hi-tech science facilities right in our neighbourhood.
For our Grade 8/9 program, we will have two core educators each working two days per week with the students, and they will each have their areas of specialty. We will also bring specialist educators and mentors into the program to ensure that all courses are taught by educators who have a passion for the subject and a gift for teaching it to grade 8 and 9 students. As we expand to a full Grade 8-12 high school, we will add more specialist teachers with a background and passion for their subject areas.
Our educators will work with each student to plan community-based learning experiences that suit them. This means that students may be able to leave school at 3:00pm on some days and put those after-school activities towards school credit. We believe strongly in students pursuing learning experiences outside, as well as inside, the classroom.
These areas of study fall under the applied design, skills, and technology (ADST) portion of the BC curriculum. The ADST curriculum can be covered by working on a wide range of projects, from building a website to making a hammock. In our program, we plan to expose students to a broad range of ADST choices as well as help our students choose a project they’re passionate about that falls within the ADST curriculum, and coach them to take creative risks, prototype their ideas, test, create and share their projects.
For families outside of the PSS community, we will be conducting interviews with prospective students and reviewing their elementary school records to determine if our High School program is the right fit for them. Our application process for all prospective students is guided by our commitment to each student’s success, and we will only accept a student into the program if we feel we can support their academic and social-emotional learning journey.
It is our passionate belief that students at small high schools develop stronger relationships with their peers and their teachers in an environment where they are known and appreciated as a whole person, not just a classmate or student. Our core purpose in keeping our high school small is to create a healthy intellectual and social climate that teenagers need for growing and learning.
At this stage, just that we’re so excited to finally be at a place where we can bring this long-time vision of a high school program to life. A passionate group of PSS parents recognized that if they wanted a relationship-based education program like this for their teens, they would have to create it themselves. So, they got together over several meetings in the fall of 2019 and have made this dream of a PSS High School a reality for September 2020. Brainstorm sessions have been vibrant with ideas for growing the program to include documentary-making classes, entrepreneurial projects, real-life work experiences, financial literacy building, school-wide community engagement initiatives, volunteer opportunities, outdoor education…stay updated on these ideas and all exciting updates about the program by signing up for our mailing list here.