Pacific Heights Elementary is a Kindergarten to Gr.7 school located in the southern region of Surrey, B.C. In it’s tenth year, Pacific Heights is located in a semi-rural area that is beginning to enter a period of change as numerous housing developments are currently under construction. Expecting to have years ahead of rapid growth, the school community is readying for many changes.
The staff at Pacific Heights have created a very unique environment for our students where hands-on experiences, problem based learning, and inquiry set us apart. They are collaborative in their approach and are willing to try to new things to meet student needs. From our LST team, to our librarian, music teacher and school counsellor, our staff truly believe in a team approach. Beyond the classroom they are involved in a multitude of school activities such as coaching teams, supporting individual student interests, hosting school leadership club, managing recycling crews, facilitating library monitor’s work, running choir and organizing professional development opportunities.
The parent community of Pacific Heights are involved and very supportive of school initiatives. Participation at school events is “standing room only” and volunteer rates are high. Parents are actively involved in school culture: volunteering in classrooms, on field trips, and fundraising. Our community is very generous in directly supporting classrooms with learning supplies, technology, and books. Currently our PAC is fundraising for two new playgrounds. Phase I has been fully funded and will be installed this summer. Fundraising will continue for Phase II over the next year.
We are very fortunate to have a cohesive, collaborative support staff. As our “directors of first impressions”, Karen and Alma greet everyone who enter our school with a smile. Our Education Assistant team not only support individual students but help to run programs to support many other students. Fitness Fridays in the gym, sandbox social play and Kids in the Kitchen are examples of areas they support. Our childcare worker, not only works directly with students, but has brought her expertise with Zones of Regulation, Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS) model and Roots of Empathy to our teachers by both organizing and providing professional development opportunities.
Our School Learning Plan:
We have four areas of focus at Pacific Heights.
1. Environmental Stewardship
Pacific Heights demonstrates environmental stewardship through a robust recycling program, experiential learning about marine environments from water quality to organisms through, “Seaquaria in Schools” and “Salmonids in the Classroom” and reusing gently used items to share with children in other countries. They also participate annually in the, “Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-up” initiative.
Pacific Heights students are passionate about not only protecting our environment but are also working towards understanding the ecosystems that surround us. While school district wide we have a recycling program, our students take it to an entirely different level. Students have a program in place that collects paper, drink containers, compostables, all kinds of plastics, batteries and metals. Student monitors from each class, organize bins in classes and twice a week bring everything to our sort center. Here, three of our classes supervise the sorting, bagging and organizing of the recyclables for the week. Teacher sponsors take responsibility for taking all of the school’s recyclables (with the exception of paper and compost done on site), to local recycling depots. Pacific Heights diverts 400 kg of organics/paper/plastics/metal and drink containers each month (4000 kg/year) from the landfill.
The recycling initiatives don’t stop there. Students have collected lightly used clothing for children in Peru, and last year collected and donated 1000 pairs of shoes to the charity, Ruben’s Shoes, which donates shoes to children in need in the Dominican Republic.
Our most important environmental project is our Ocean Life Stewardship program. When you enter the doors of our school, you have the opportunity to observe local sea life in our Sea-Aquarium. Seastars, urchins, and hermit crabs abound! Excited students surround the tank testing salinity levels and monitoring water temperature while taking down their observations using iPads (including some amazing time-lapse videos), and logbooks.
This year, we have added a touch tank to allow our students to be ever closer to our local sea life. The beauty of the touch tank is its mobility. The tank is moved from classroom to classroom to give students an opportunity to learn and observe ocean ecosystems in real time.
The sea aquarium brings captivating, ever-changing marine ecosystems into the students’ everyday lives. These help focus, deliver and integrate a variety of cross-curricular and outreach materials. As students care for their ecosystems and participate in hands on activities, they build an understanding and respect for the organisms and develop integrated stewardship skills. In the process, the aquaria are very effective in fostering a passion for learning and critical thinking in many other areas of endeavour.
Learning about our local sea life, students are motivated to protect it; through reducing, reusing, reinventing and recycling, our students are becoming stewards of the earth. Their knowledge of ocean ecosystems is astonishing. Students will be the first to tell you the impacts humans have on our local oceans and what we need to do to make positive change.
2. Hands-on/Problem based Inquiry and learning
As our education system changes, putting students at the center of their learning, so do classroom approaches. Our staff understands that we are preparing our students for many careers that have not yet been invented.
Our goal is to create students who are inquisitive, creative, problem solvers. Our teaching practices need to match and therefore we are moving towards a more inquiry based teaching model for our students. Students continue to develop a strong foundation in reading, writing and numeracy through this project-based inquiry and problem solving approach. Our focus, through the lens of redesigned curriculum and core competencies, are to provide such opportunities of learning for our students. Some examples of this work are: Friday problem and Fun Fridays, Tinker stations (students given the opportunity to take apart and learn about different electronics as they take them apart), Osmo, MaKey MaKey invention kits (circuit makers), 3d-printing (from design to completed project),video production, Genius Hour, Learning in Depth, Inquiry days, computer coding and district supported projects such as Moon, Mars and Beyond.
In addition, our students have embraced the “maker movement.” From cardboard challenge projects at the primary level to explorations in S.T.E.A.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Design, and Math) at the intermediate level, all of our students participate in Maker Faire.
3. Communicating Student Learning- Making Learning Visible
As curriculum changes along with the needs of our students, so does how we collect and communicate student learning. We believe effective communication of student learning:
- is continuous and ongoing
- includes student, teacher and parent voice
- is forward looking: students can clearly describe their learning, areas of strength and weakness, and can describe next steps
- includes descriptive feedback and reflection, evidence of learning (collections, demonstrations)
- is too complex to be reduced to letter grades, numbers, symbols
For the 2015/16 school year, we have ten classrooms using FreshGrade, four classrooms using the new Communicating Student Learning template and one classroom using a class website to make learning visible for students, parents and teachers. While at different places along the continuum of learning, we are working towards a common understanding using these new tools. Teachers voluntarily meet weekly at FreshGrade Friday meetings to share their learning with each other, challenge thinking and offer help to one another.
Example of student documenting their learning
Changes in education have been rapid and numerous in B.C. over the past year in both curriculum and communicating student learning. Read more about these changes here. While the response from the community has been positive, we will continue to elicit feedback and make adjustments to our work.
Not only is our objective to make individual student learning visible, it is to create opportunities to share student learning with the entire school community and beyond to our parent community. Student-led assemblies provide opportunities for students to share their learning with the school community and include student skits and both student created PowerPoint and video sharing. Parents are welcome to join all school events including our winter concert, band performances, harvest dances and veggie carvings, assemblies, Maker Faire, outside performances, our talent show and games day.
We have opened a window into the learning at Pacific Heights to our entire community through Twitter, our school website and school blog at pacificheightslearns.com
4. Social Emotional Learning: Self-Regulation
When discussing our learners, our staff and parent community have identified an area needing attention. Social Emotional learning has been identified as an area of focus. Parents and teachers report high levels of students feelings of anxious, and having difficulty self-regulating, leading to struggles with forming and maintaining healthy relationships.
While we have many strategies and programs in use at Pacific Heights, such as Mind Up and Mindsets, we specifically are looking to measure the effects of the implementation of the Zones of Regulation program on self-regulation. In order to measure the impact of the program, we are implementing a pre-survey prior to starting the program with numerous classes and two control groups. Using a combination of both qualitative and quantitative data we hope to see positive growth in our students. A post survey will be completed in early June. Pre-survey data can be seen here.
Our Inquiry Question:
- How will infusing specific SEL strategies in the classroom (specifically Zones of Regulation) impact student self-regulation?
Our first story:
March 4, 2016. An introductory letter went home for Zones of Regulation explaining the program and meaning/definitions of the colours. The next morning, a parent stopped me and said that the letter opened up a dialogue between her and her son. Mom shared that her son was already using the language he had learned. He expressed to her that, “he was feeling ‘blue’ at that particular moment”. Mom went on to say that they then talked about what tools he had to move him to ‘green’. What a positive start to implementing a new program: the beginning of common language between home and school.
In June, classes participating in using Zones of Regulation completed a post-survey. Some significant trends can be extrapolated from the data. See the data here.
Our school Learning Plan is designed to be a dynamic, ever-changing, and developing document. We encourage feedback from all stakeholders: parents, teachers and staff, and students.