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Hugs from Home Learners at Hume Park….
Roberta Oxenbury is hugged goodbye after 13 years of her devoted and ‘tireless presence’ with the unique Hume Park Homelearners Program.
A steady presence and a second home…
Parents and kids at the Home Learners at Hume Park program gathered in force last week to thank Roberta Oxenbury for being the face of a welcoming, friendly program since she joined on as secretary 13 years ago.
Along with cake, balloons and hugs, there were tears and farewells as she begins her retirement.
Oxenbury has been a steady presence – as have longtime teachers Karen Blackburn, Jen Purdon, Gillian Gunderson, and Jodie Haraga – almost since the program was founded in 2002.
The Ministry of Education-funded ‘blended’ program in New Westminster combines parent-guided home learning with the support of BC certified teachers. In its early beginnings, it started with 15 students from kindergarten to grade 7, moving locations six times in the first year and a half. That earned it the nickname Homeless Learners – until it found a long- term location in uptown New Westminster.
In 2012, the program relocated to the former Hume Park elementary school on the east side of the city, where it quickly became a second home to what is now about 120 kindergarten to grade 8 students and their families, along with four certified teachers.
“Roberta’s been a community builder through this time,” said former principal Allan Saugstad, founder and principal of Island Discovery Learning Community – a home learning program based on Bowen Island that is also administered by New Westminster Schools.
As teacher Karen Blackburn explained, the gathering in honour of Oxenbury – with parents, kids and staff working together – is in many ways typical of a Hume Park extended family celebration.
Shared Learning, ahead of its time…
“Hume Park is a place where kids and parents have ownership,” said Jamie Sadler, who has assumed a new role as principal of the Hume Park program. “Kids can learn at their own pace and have input into their own learning. It meets the needs of a very special kind of learner and their families. Certainly, it takes a lot of active parent commitment to support their child’s learning,” he noted.
Parents and students develop learning plans with teachers; students bring their ideas and goals for their own learning; classroom groupings are part-time, small and multi-age so that students are both learners and mentors to others. And the program operates with the understanding that time spent outside the classroom is an important part of the child’s learning experience.
Hume Park teacher Karen Blackburn has been devoted to the program since its inception in 2002: she supported her own children in home learning while working part-time in the traditional school system as a teacher in Surrey.
For Blackburn, the blended model of homeschooling in a community setting offered an alternative to mainstream education – with a much stronger emphasis on personalized learning, critical thinking, and developing projects and portfolios, allowing students to explore and follow their interests.
And for Blackburn, the “notion that school and home are separate entities never sat well with me.”
Sadler said in many ways the home learners program anticipated the newly implemented redesigned curriculum for BC schools. “The power of the home learners program is that it’s really for people who want flexibility in learning. It’s about engagement and letting students be empowered to drive their own learning. Many of those aspects are part of the new curriculum now,” he said.
The joy of the learning journey…
At Hume Park, students and parents gather two times a week at the Learning Centre where the school library now functions as a Bistro and Resource Room, much like a family home.
Outdoor learning programs are a strong emphasis in the program, and are especially invigorated by the proximity of the school to the Brunette River and other natural areas.
The music program takes place in the portable next to the small school students.
And parents regularly organize field trips and classes in the community. Kids have been on farm tours, cultural tours to the Vancouver Art Gallery, visits to the CBC Studio or to Stave Falls Hydro Dam and Capilano Fisheries – and for a bike ride on Barnston Island. Along with math, fine arts, and physical education, classes can run the gamut from sewing and swimming lessons to horse riding lessons and trampoline classes.
For many families, the flexibility of the home learners program is critical to meeting unique needs. Some children find they can socialize in more comfortable ways that in standard school settings. Other families are able to make lifestyle choices – one family, for instance, volunteers with their child at an organic farm and at an animal sanctuary. Still others simply stumbled upon what they found was a ‘fabulous way of learning.”
As for Oxenbury, her time with the program can be summed up in four words:
“It’s been a joy,” she said.