WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Teacher Bob Harris has a positive attitude towards learning, says principal Kris Hodgins.
Rather than suppress boys' high-spirited physicality, aggression or shy reluctance, Edmonton Catholic Schools has responded by structuring an environment so boys can express these drives in safe, respectful ways.
The school district established the city's first all-boys academy which opened in September. Located in St. James School, 7814-83 St., the all-boys academy is comprised of one class of 19 boys in Grades 4 and 5.
"Boys learn when they are active," said Boris Radyo, assistant superintendent for Edmonton Catholic Schools.
Boys need hands-on activities and an inquiry method in learning, Radyo said.
"There also has to be a focus on literacy for young boys, so the literacy activities have to be age-appropriate and offer the kinds of reading materials that are of interest to boys."
The school district has had an all-girls' program for several years at the Jean Forest Academy. In 2009, the destrict surveyed parents and found 171 who said they would send their boy to an all-boys program, he said.
"Across three grades, that indicated to us, it was more than sufficient support for the program."
The district went to work and developed a program that increases the ability of boys to achieve their best.
Principal Kris Hodgins says, "One-size-fits-all doesn't work for everybody. This is more personalized learning."
Students will "turn off if not interested" so it is important to stimulate boys' motivation to learn, Hodgins said.
Some boys learn best through books and reading materials, while others might be better taught through videos, online resources or various multimedia tools.
Seating arrangements in the classroom allow students to sit in groups, work standing or even lie on the floor.
While every student receives the same curriculum, they learn in varied ways, depending on their personal aptitudes, learning styles and strategies.
"The parents say their boys are happy to come to school here. It's a safe, comfortable environment for learning," said Hodgins.
The academy allows students more room for choice on how to do their assignments and projects, she said.
For example, on Oct. 9 the students were writing narratives. Every student had to write a story and draw a picture about someone they enjoy spending time with.
Every boy chose an appropriate person, such as his father or a close friend. The story was to describe a specific activity they enjoy doing together.
Some boys sat alone at their desks to work on this assignment, while others lounged together on couches.
They had options such as including sound recordings to express their views. Students who struggle with handwriting had the option of using a computer.
Other boy-friendly learning activities include Lego Robotics, speech and debate, hands-on math and science, film and photography, cartooning, role-playing for social studies, interactive learning activities and embedded technology.
Radyo said the school will host a science fair for boys only and it has had a speaker come to talk to parents about boys education.
Rob Harris, the teacher at the academy, chooses resources, topics and activities that support boys' learning, said Hodgins.
"Rob Harris has been a positive role model for these boys. He's calm, and has a positive attitude towards learning."
Another emphasis is on a welcoming and hospitable environment that nurtures healthy and motivating relationships.
"The best way to break through with a student who is struggling or not connecting is to build stronger relationships," said Hodgins.
The boys academy strives to develop an awareness and love of God, as well as a sense of moral responsibility, she said.
The boys interact with the rest of the school, which is co-ed, during recess, field trips, school assemblies, celebrations and for certain subjects, such as French.
Leadership opportunities are available for the boys as well. The boys will spearhead a fundraising effort for Sticks and Stones, a social justice project within the school.
The academy hopes to expand the program to Grades 3 to 6 next year. The main deterrent right now is the distance for some students to travel. But if successful, the school district envisions that the boys academy will be available at every grade.
Word of the program is getting around, said Radyo.
"It spread by word of mouth. The boys who were in the program for the first month were telling their parents that they were quite happy there, and those parents were speaking to neighbours and friends."