Square Apple Institute – The Curriculum

Because of their courage, we should never give up.

Part 1 – Square Apple Institute Introduction
Part 2 – The Curriculum
Part 3 – The Funding Model

You can also find the below as it appeared in the PSA, here.

We do not have a curriculum all laid out and ready to go because it’s something that needs to holistically grow through student, caregiver, teacher, educational supports, and community voice.  Of course, there will also be that conversation as we earlier touched on, about seeking partial government funding and finding that balance between building a locally developed curriculum, and possible requirements tied to a hypothetical funding envelope created to finance approved partial private sector led educational streams.

We don’t have how many lines teachers and businesses will run a day ironed out, or what the exact teaching components will be other than a strong focus on the arts, trades, and life skills. What I do know for sure however, is that this school would be built with students with varying physical and mental abilities, or simply those not fully engaged in public education, in mind. However, the school would be open to all abilities including gifted students with a much smaller threshold than the typical 99th percentile; if there even is a threshold at all.

I will start this conversation off with what I envision to be a typical day at Square Apple Institute, but first a brief history of where this dream all started, which is within the facility that I have since dreamed would see the beginnings of our imagined educational adventure.

I have previously although briefly, touched on a book I have been writing as I try to creatively describe the school, the students, the families, and the community that would be built up around the whole. Within that tale, I started backwards – imagining that first graduating class. The hurdles we had overcome, the change we had all been a part of, and the joy in the success of the first graduates of what I refer to in my story as East City High. 

That dream first came to me while standing on the historic stage of Delta giving my first secondary graduation speech as a Trustee. 

Delta wasn’t directly within my family of schools, but in trying to find a balance between attending graduations at our schools that often overlapped each other – even when you (I) only had four schools in your portfolio, it meant Trustee Mulholland could not attend Delta’s grad that year. I was excited and honored to be standing on that historic stage in front of one of the last graduating classes among the over 90 previous cohorts that had sat eagerly anticipating this finale over the years.

As I sat on stage nervously awaiting my turn to speak, I suddenly imagined being the Protector of this school. That dream of Parkview 2.0 now lived within these walls and this class, the families before me, and the staff on stage, were now part of our (INSE) family. The graduates in those first two rows, they were of our making.

From that point on, I wanted that school for our endeavor. Its perfect placement along the future LRT route. Its vast size and the possibilities that having that much space from the get go afforded our dream and it’s sustainability for the long haul. Its history and how that would attract both 90+ years of alumni and architectural admirers alike to simply pay to look around and learn about the decades its use has spanned. How everyone from professionals to educators, would visit to learn about what we were doing and how they could integrate some of our best practices into their own learning and business environments. The ways in which we were adaptively continuing learning in public surplus spaces like Delta Collegiate, much to the excitement and relief of it’s storied alum. Because of the effort of so many individuals, corporations and service providers, Delta would now see its 100th and 200th anniversaries of educating youth and adults alike in the Crown Point and overarching Hamilton community.

Now, here we are a few years later staring at this empty, dark facade, that is surely missing the commotion, inspiration, and dedication to preparing our youth for life outside her storied walls.

Some of what I will discuss will likely look familiar as I bring together some of the beauty I saw through my years as an engaged father and Trustee. Most will be new as we envision an entirely different concept and approach to education in the 21st Century. 

21st Century. It seems so futuristic. Mysterious. So Lost in Space, but other than a few alternative educational choices, some Specialist High Skills Majors, and technology in our schools, the halls and classrooms and everything that lives within our institutional walls, is much the same as it was when we were youth. I know I am generalizing a great deal but are our classrooms or the hallways lined with lockers, some artwork, and a few words of inspiration really vastly different than perhaps what Delta as an example, looked like when inkwells and chalkboards and hard-covered textbooks ruled the day?

Take off those prescription eye glasses and sit back as we give public education the laser eye treatment. The world will look very different and new and even a little shocking at first, but don’t worry. You’re eyes will adjust as you see the world through a refreshing set of new lenses where mental and physical health are at the forefront, and learning comes naturally and holistically through this critical focus of the humans – both young and experienced, that are part of what goes on within the walls and surrounding communities that INSE has a presence in.

Remember. INSE isn’t me. It’s you. I’m just the one in front on that dirt path in the woods, hand reached out asking ‘Come on then. Are you IN?’

We’re ten years and two facilities into our dream now, with an elementary building in the works. The Delta site opened its doors first, with the Barton site in Hamilton joining the INSE family in the 6th year. 

It became apparent early on, that in order to achieve our goal of taking care of mind, body and spirit first, that following in the footsteps of systems like Finland, and focusing on these elements even earlier in our students development, was vital. We needed to ensure that our grade 7 students coming into our secondary system were better prepared. We wanted them to enter our secondary doors that much stronger for having started their educational careers focusing on understanding themselves, the world around them, building up their confidence and worth, and creating compassionate, empathetic youth prepared for the physical and mental challenges that lie beyond the innocence of their play-based early years. Although INSE’s strength was its ability to keep youth engaged and help them find physical and emotional peace, seeing students struggle in their early days at the Square Apple Institute had encouraged all involved, to work toward a truly B to Life learning toolkit and the Eastmount Park School site, was the first of INSE’s elementary assets.

It’s fall. The leaves at the Delta site are a multitude of shapes and colors. The garden within the rear east exterior corridor is also in full bloom. The animals in the sanctuary within the west exterior corridor are much more active then they were during the hot days of our summer curriculum. 

When we imagine a day at Square Apple Institute, we have to head offsite to the place our educators meet the busses early in the morning where the learning actually begins. I am not on the morning bus, as I will be taking part in this experience to finish my day, but as I drive in, educators and supports are arriving at our bus depots to join the morning ride into school which in some cases, is close to an hour or longer depending on weather and traffic.

A light breakfast is always served on the bus, and every effort is made to start the  students day in the most welcoming, energetic way possible. We’ll get more into the bus experience later on, but right now I am just arriving at Square Apple Institute – Delta Campass.

The houses that lined the back of the property have all been purchased, and converted into parking and playground space, allowing for sport surfaces and a multitude of other outdoor activities. It’s only 7am and already the exterior spaces of the Delta property are bursting with play, nature, and relaxation. Students are taking dogs and cats alike from the schools in-house shelter for walks. The birds in the outdoor animal sanctuary are chirping loudly. A touch football game is going on within the inner confounds of the track where students and adults alike are also circling around by foot and by bike. A street hockey game is going on at the other end, and in between the sounds of ‘boing’ and ‘swoosh’ are in abundance on the basketball courts. A little cosplay is being filmed in the back corner of the property among the trees where props still remain from last night’s movie shoot. Books are being read, plants and flowers watered, photos are being taken, music is playing but at a moderate level as the respect for the local community is extremely high among students and the broader Square Apple community.

Walking into the school, you are almost overwhelmed by the colors, natural lighting, and overall life that you are immediately greeted by, and I entered through the east side doors into a stairwell.

There is a coffee shop on this level, run by a local entrepreneur and a partner of the broader hospitality and tourism programming. It has windows and flowers on the hall-facing wall as if the room was an outside community shop, and within we already find students working and learning.

There are televisions everywhere, where everything from the news they broadcast to the films and other such creative products created within the school, are displayed on. There is a slight echo, only because I can see the students, smiling and showing an enthusiasm it usually takes me until 10am to find, filming the morning show through the glass walls of the adjacent studio.

At 7:30am, our first students will arrive who take a bus to and from school each day, and I am told seeing this arrival is perhaps the most important thing I will see the rest of my day touring the facility.

I make my way outside just before 7:30, and am greeted to open and covered spaces alike, lined with chairs, music playing, and staff, volunteers and even students (who are required to work with their peers as well), enjoying a coffee, orange juice, and ready to greet youth off the bus. Every day is like a celebration for this welcome home committee, where students continue their morning with a sense of importance and belonging. The students have all learned hand gestures to be able to let staff know how they want to be greeted, from a ‘hey’, high five, fist bump, hug, or even just a smile for those who either do not like or are not up for any form of physical contact that day.

Between the staff welcome, and the activities happening among all four corners of the Delta property, the students are truly greeted with so much positivity and well, ‘life’.

I follow the students in, noticing many using the school app on their mobile devices to check out what their day looks like and where their first class is. The overall demeanor of staff and students is like nothing I have ever seen before in any educational setting, leaving me inspired by the efforts staff and the community put into starting students off right.

A family comes down the stairs, likely from the third floor housing that is offered to family of the students and staff first to ensure as best they can, that the basic necessities of life are not a barrier to the students education.

I pass a games room where through tinted glass, we can still get a sense of the livelihood of video and arcade games, cards, and pool table play, all keeping kids engaged during down time. ‘Punch Out? Awe man. Another time.’

Further down the first floor hall, I pass a daycare, once again with glass windows replacing the old brick hallway exteriors, all contributing to the abundance of natural light that now fills the hallways. I see teen parents in their learning how to change a diaper, another preparing a snack for their child, and the high school-aged child from the family that came down the stairwell as I entered the school, dropping off their little sister with a hug and a smile at the while their parents ventured off to work.

A poster on the wall is already advertising the Square Apple annual Thanksgiving day feast. The Tiger-Cats vs. the Argos on television, games, football snacks and of course, the big gobble gobble feast itself. Holidays from Christmas Day to Canada Day, are big to-do’s with INSE always open. Another poster a little ways up, is advertising the fall talent show and dance, with another getting everyone excited for the Grey Cup celebrations at Square Apple.

From artwork to posters everywhere – leaving hardly a bare spot of plain paint on any wall, another sign highlights that next week is elective week where students will choose from offerings ranging from short story writing, to learning card games. Once every semester, a week is set aside for such exploratory learning, with the spring session only offering electives based on in house existing programming. Every student in fact, is required to at least take an elective if not a full semester course, in all of our course offerings so that they will leave us having a full understanding of the world outside our doors as they become adults living, working, and continuing their learning within our communities.

There are caring adults literally everywhere and on occasion, I see a student ask them for help or an adult offer it when they see a student who may need assistance. One student is rather vocal, but the compassion and patience I see from the caring adults is heartwarming; especially as I see the student walk away smiling as they continue toward their destination.

I see mention of philanthropists, volunteers, businesses, and other funders throughout my Delta travels highlighting the fact that whether it be through local school boards, the provincial ministries, rentals, or fundraising, money hasn’t been something that has proved any barrier since the earlier days of development of this model.

Each day, the students start off in a homeroom with the same support staff that they will begin their day with for the first 45 minutes. This staff is a cross between a guidance counselor and employment coordinator, ensuring they are always engaged in developing their post-secondary, employment, and life pathways each day. 

Before home room starts, the typical morning announcements and singing of the national anthem is replaced with a 15 minute ceremony consisting of the land acknowledgement, and an Indigenous elder opening the morning in a good way both in their language and in english, with the youth exposed to the first languages and traditions often throughout the day including a similar closing to end the formal educational hours. The ceremony is broadcast over the PA system, but there is an open concept room where staff and students can also go to experience the ceremony in person as well.

At Square Apple, they recognize the first language as those of our first peoples, their official language as english, and their second language(s) are those of the world. Students are required to learn about different cultures, traditions, religions, family origin stories, and languages in an effort to create a more cohesive, compassionate, and understanding society. The school breaks down language barriers by learning common greetings and sayings in other dialects that are popular within the community, and they extend this learning by ensuring students and the broader school community, hear these languages spoken throughout the day, and that they see traditions from prayer to cultural celebrations happening within the walls of their own school daily.

As home room starts, we learn that Ghurinder is preparing for Sheridan college for animation next fall. John will be starting his apprenticeship at Stelco in the spring, and Stewart will be getting his first apartment on his own and will be working for a local bakery full time when he graduates. Sandeep is off to Harvard now that our Institute has become recognized by world-wide universities as an organization that prepares its students well for successful post-secondary studies.

Back in the hallways again, heading to my first official class, I am handed a business card from a subject specialist – a professional who teaches a class and runs a business out of the same space. The web page is hosted on the INSE site, and has videos, photos, and text giving students and families a thorough understanding of what an entire semester in that class looks like from the full curriculum, to a 360 degree panoramic view of the space and a message from all the educators and supports who play a part in the learning within that classroom. The business isn’t allowed to advertise on this page, although within their profile they are allowed to share their personal/business email, phone number, and website/Facebook address. In fact, all staff have profiles on the Square Apple Website where they are allowed to provide links to their life outside of school from where their band is playing, to their side business refurbishing furniture. The school truly is there to support every aspect of their staff, students, volunteers, and families lives as best they can within and outside of the walls of their educational facilities.

The halls of Delta really are almost unrecognizable now. With some rooms having been turned into open spaces, and moderate class sizes meaning the school population itself is small, walls once lined with lockers have been converted into streetscapes with more natural lighting, decorative walkways, greenery, park benches, and rooms doubling as storefronts during times when the school is open to the community for meetings, events, and shopping. I get now why they refer to this building as an education mall.

The first classroom learning I wanted to explore, takes place in the greenhouse. Here we are welcomed by wall to wall flowers, trees, and various plants – many from local gardens that the students tend to through the colder months and re-plant for our neighbours in the spring. There are no traditional desks or chairs, but instead in this room we find picnic tables, benches, adirondack chairs, large rocks and other such sitting spaces that you would more traditionally find in areas surrounded in such earthly creations. 

Each class is broken down into three learning sections, with a traditional teacher present for one third of the class to deliver math and other curriculum related to the subject matter (ie machine shop, woodworking, etc.), another third taught by the professional who runs that specific room both as a business and their required teaching lines related to their contract for operating within this space. The final third of the period is open time where students are left to explore subject related content that both (in this case) has a gardening component, and uses the math, english or science lesson that was covered in the day’s teacher-led portion of the class. In some classes, the students will have open time first which is challenging but it has become their favorite way to start the class because their exploration and learning comes from only knowing what the day’s lesson is and not having been officially taught the curriculum. It’s where some of the most creative exploration is born. 

You see for every classroom, a professional relates the math, english, history, et cetera curriculum to the themed profession of that classroom, meaning our youth can choose to spend their entire day in rooms related to their passions, yet still acquiring the more academic skills you would otherwise find in a typical teacher, desk, chair, chalkboard classroom of yester…er…today.

There are at least four adults in every classroom at any given time, whether it’s a teacher, subject matter professional, EA, and two parent/community/alumni volunteers. Or a subject matter professional, EA, and two parent/community/alumni volunteers. The teacher only has one third lines per class, but over one assigned line they will cover three classrooms.

On occasion throughout the week, a teacher will be present during the open learning portion of a class to assist the subject matter professional with curriculum writing, content delivery, etc. They have two hour and a half lines each day, an hour set aside and split each week between time to assist subject matter professionals further, and meetings with EAs and other in school professionals with regards to ILPs, lessons learned via successes and challenges during class, et cetera. 

Teachers roles are much more limited in scope, with volunteers, local community coaches, and service providers taking care of monthly dances, talent competitions, graduations, trips, et cetera. Teachers are not required to take part in any of these activities but are welcome to volunteer outside of their required duties. 

A teachers day and year otherwise doesn’t look much different with summers off and evenings spent grading, but the school is always looking for educators and supports who want to take on work over the summer or later into the evening, to ensure learning at Square Apple is year round.

Many teachers are still part of a union, and in fact INSE has created an extremely strong working relationship with local unions. They recognize their history in our communities, and their strong advocacy and leadership with regards to workers rights. INSE schools however remain fully functional during work to rule or strike action, having deemed themselves an essential service (although not yet recognized as such through the PSLRA), but their students, staff, families, and volunteers all have a strong understanding of teachers contracts, exactly what they are fighting for during contract negotiations, and Square Apple engages in many lessons and discussions throughout the year and even more so, when their teachers are at the negotiating table with the province or local school boards. Square Apple and INSE as a whole, is non-partisan in these regards, however part of their mandate is to encourage that both the province and local unions bargain respectively, and remember that our youth are watching at all times.

In fact today, many Square Apple teachers are outside picketing, and students and volunteers are taking turns joining them in an act of solidarity, to bring them food and refreshments, and as part of their learning about how our communities work from elected government, unions, and the various working roles within and beyond our cities. Solidarity doesn’t necessarily mean they always support the union or province in every item being negotiated, but rather to show their respect and admiration for the role all these entities play in education.

In the gym, preparations are also being made for the upcoming election. Youth vote is mandatory at the school, where staff have adopted two voting systems so parents, youth, and all educators and support within the school, understand how a system that isn’t first past the post, changes results. It’s also designed to give them more knowledge to make more educated decisions, when these sorts of topics are included in political party platforms.

Some of the students are also at Queens Park today, advocating for public education to be overseen by a bi-partisan collective rather than the political party of the day, to ensure everything from collective bargaining to curriculum, are run and designed through a broader mindset of ideas, opinions and values. Having their youth active in their communities, local politics, and decision making is high among  INSE’s core values and their mission. #YouthInspiring

My first class is over and now the music that was playing at a low hum during instruction time, is a little louder not unlike a mall (although not like elevator music), to add some life and enthusiasm to the hallways. The school has their own radio station run by students, who have an assortment of donated cassettes, 8-tracks, records, and CD’s to choose from. The school does use streaming services too I am told, but only for music created by local musicians including their own students and alumni, who have uploaded music to these platforms. 

All rooms have custom signs made by the students in the varying trades classes, identifying the room number and subject matter within the class. Each room is also populated in the schools app that shows a footprint of the school so combined, all of these measures make it easy for the students (and guests and shoppers for that matter), to know where they need to be next. The EA’s and volunteers are also everywhere to assist any one in need so nobody ever feels lost. 

There is 15 minutes between classes so there are no mad dashes, but there is also no punishment for being late. They do have discussions relating to matters such as this so it is not ignored, but part of the schools mandate is also to inspire change in business and for it to be influenced by education and not the other way around. 

Next, we are in the auto shop that is run by a local mechanic. There are 3 bays, and lot’s of action beyond the two teaching segments during each class. There are only two lines a day in these types of classes, so that the rest of the day these business spaces can be used to generate income and work for our students. Each business that runs within Square Apple from hospitality and tourism to auto shop, are required to run 2 lines of education a day in exchange for discounted space, and full use of all of our tools. There is always someone in each class space during working hours to accommodate questions from students and for even some extra-curricular hands on time beyond co-op and work placements as well.

We notice in this space as we did in the greenhouse and other classes we peered into on the way to auto, that there are walls in corners of each room where in behind, we find couches, bean bag chairs, lamps, reading nooks, etc. to ensure each space within the school has a quiet place for students to escape to. There are also other rooms beside the library (which is also open to the public beyond the 9-4 school day), where students can go during class time to get away if they are overwhelmed – or underwhelmed for that matter. There are EA’s and volunteers available at all times within these spaces, to ensure when the student is ready, any required elements of the class are covered so they do not ‘fall behind’.

Falling behind. With the school doors open at 7 and learning available on the buses to and from school, and with teaching resources available until 9pm and over holiday and summer months, falling behind is actually not a thing. We call it ‘learning at an individual pace’. The students are also not required to finish their high school education over four years as the schools doors are open to INSE students until they are 103. All learning is tracked though so that critical learning such as topics like health and physical education or diversity discussions are not missed.

Life happens. Whether it’s their own personal health, the illness of a loved one requiring them to work or take care of their caregiver or younger sibling, or whatever life throws at our youth, these students are always enrolled and never too old to continue the learning they started at Square Apple. The school hopes they will take courses, volunteer, and even teach one day throughout their lives and ideally, they hope the students will remain connected with the school so they can follow their struggles and successes and be a part of their life’s journey. That is why they call it B2L (birth to life) education, because learning should be life long in whatever format that looks like and INSE wants to play a role in that.

It was fun watching the kids get greasy, laugh and enjoy learning so much in the auto bays. They were working on my truck’s breaks during class and they even washed and shampoo’d it for me before handing me back the keys with the biggest smile of accomplishment. 

Racing and movie posters with car themes, an app they worked with the technology department to develop to help their customers know when their vehicles are due for service, and even how to change a tire and check the oil themselves. My favorite part of class was checking out the the hot rod they had built from scratch, that they are preparing to race at Cayuga this coming weekend.

It’s time for lunch but for students in the hospitality and tourism class, this is their busiest class of the day, with dinner and breakfast not quite as crazy. Like most classes, a local small business runs the space outside of their required two lines, with lunch being the only meal time class of the day. The teacher led portion is always before the lunch rush, with the professional portion hands on and interactive.

It’s an extra busy day for this class, as they also make final preparations to host Research Ed this weekend which has become one of the biggest almost weekly conferences they host and serve. I pay for my lunch, but it’s free for students and volunteers and discounted for staff. All that they require of their students is that they spend so many hours volunteering in the hospitality department whether it’s cleaning dishes, tables, or mopping floors. Some of these chores they are also paid to do as they are required to both work and volunteer so many hours as part of their education at Square Apple. There are custodial staff but they too run their service as a business and are required to teach students throughout each day as well.

After lunch, we pop into various rooms but my favorite hands down, is the animation room. A Toronto studio with deep roots in our community, runs this program and teaches everything from animation history, using traditional techniques like stop-motion and cell animation, but especially computer animation. The schools art department is state of the art, and they have created a close relationship between the film, photography, fundamentals, graphic, performance, and music programs. The shorts produced by these students within all of these creative genres have been known to frequent the Toronto and world film festivals. 

The trades wing is award winning, with all school repairs and decorations stemming from the learning happening behind those walls. Many of the more artistic pieces these students and those from the arts and hospitality programs, are sold in the hallways and classrooms that double as storefronts outside of the 9-4, 5 days a week traditional educational hours. 

The theatre in Delta is breathtaking from the original craftsmanship of the now 100 year old building to the renovations and enhancements that have been made to have this auditorium double as a commercial space used almost every evening and weekend outside of the educational components that are run out of this space. From broadway musicals, conference lectures, to weddings and faith services, the audio, visual, and live streaming technologies are second to none. 

Before I leave, I take some time to catch a partial run through of a play written and directed by staff and students that will open at the schools theatre for shows open to students from the local secondary schools, but move to Toronto and beyond over the coming months entitled ‘Included’, inspired by the students experiences in traditional schools and the home they have found within the Square Apple Institute. The band playing in the pit is remarkable, coupled with the stunning sound system, and the stage and auditorium lighting. The sets designed in house by the fundamental, graphical, and trades teams are remarkable and realistic, and the performers all display an astounding attention to detail and a passion for not only the craft, but delivering the message they have been dreaming to share through their art. These test performances are often open to the local community so there is quite an audience to cheer on all involved to give them a sense of what performing in front of larger audiences will feel like.

4-o’clock is quickly coming. In the morning I joined a homeroom class for the days traditional opening, but for the closing I chose to go to the indgenous circle in a more open space where the elder themself is present. I couldn’t think of a more peaceful way to start and end a day, although my plan is to jump on a bus and see what the ride home looks like for those students who take INSE transit to school each day. 

After the closing ceremony, I board the bus expecting to see some pretty worn out kids, but they are as excited for the ride home as they were taking part in the days events. The windows on this converted coach bus are tinted, so the environment within the coach is very serene. There are also sections at the back just before the bathroom, that are sectioned off like quiet spaces for the students needing a break from the more open concept of the remainder of the bus. The seats and even flooring are of a soft, welcoming material like a coach bus, with televisions, technological devices, and even books and magazines available for the kids to watch, read, or listen to with the provided headphones. An EA and parent/community volunteer are also available on each bus to engage the youth and help them with their continued learning, and food and drinks are available to once again ensure that nourishment isn’t a barrier to their education from the moment they get on an INSE bus or step through their school doors, to when they leave or step off the bus and back into their home communities.

These busses are award winning, and the city now has two of their own running during peek dismissal times so far, for youth with a valid student ID. These busses also include the same adult to student ratio as an INSE bus. It’s one more example of many, of how this teaching school is inspiring other institutions from ecutational to municipal, to adopt some of the practices developed at the Square Apple Institute.

I just finished dinner with my family, but I am now watching a livestream of a free course on Healthy Meal Preparation for the Busy Family. It’s also offered in person at the Square Apple Institute for a cost of the supplies, but at home I’ve made sure I had the ingredients ready which were posted on the web page for this class the night before. There are two webcams for each session, with one set up to give a sense of being at a table preparing the meal within the classroom, and one on the instructor, with photos, ingredients, cooking instructions and other material posted as images on the website.

Speaking of which, I was talking to my gracious tour guide throughout the day, who talked with so much passion and admiration for the school while we made the rounds, about their e-learning classes as well. All students are required to take one of their compulsory credits as an e-learning component, and one optional credit offering in this format. Because the school recognizes that not all families can afford the technology or expensive internet services, and that some live in more rural areas with limited connectivity, e-learning components are done in class with both a teacher and a technology specialist like any other course. This is because it’s more important that the students have a strong understanding of how e-learning works should they require such courses beyond secondary school, and Square Apple recognizes the value and critical importance of having educator supervision for any required learning.

I relax in bed for a bit with a good book related to the days learning (The Illusion of Full Inclusion), reflecting on my own learning day which started with a 7am coffee in the outdoor Square Apple garden, and ended just a few moments ago with an online instructional offering. 

It was literally the best day I have had at school, which seems well echoed in the INSE community chatrooms I just checked in on on my tablet before closing my eyes. There, the activities and relationships that are made daily are being heralded, with so many students eager to awake to a new day of learning and exploration at INSE’s Square Apple Institute.

This isn’t real, but it could be. So why isn’t it?

Are you IN?

At Square Apple, we fill youth with knowledge. We encourage them to question everything. We will not indoctrinate either religion, political, or social views. Together, we learn about all views and the students are left to make their own choices and have their own viewpoints based on evidence and opinions from all sides of any given topic. Develop your own opinion, but do not judge others for their viewpoints. Let’s understand each other, sympathize with each other, and support one another. 

Within our school grounds and transportation services, there are ears everywhere. Not to eavesdrop or enforce rules, but to ensure that lessons learned from conversations, relationships whether romantic or friendships, or actions of conflict, come before academics because to have a poor grasp of these basic skills, means learning is veiled with raw, unwavering emotion leaving little room for the mind to soak in the knowledge we seek to provide.

Parents can have peace of mind knowing that when their kids leave to go to one of our schools, that they are receiving world class care where their world is treated and supported as if they were ours because they are. That’s why we are here. No waiting by the phone for that call about your child’s behavior. No ‘they have an EA’ one year and ‘they don’t the next.’ No going through their education without actually completing a single grade.You’ll still hear from us often, but it will be to discuss the amazing influence your child has on our school community.

For so many parents or caregivers, it is critical that they work every single minute of their scheduled work day day to afford the necessities for their family. It’s the difference for so many between life being sustainable and falling to pieces. Parents shouldn’t have to use sick or vacation time for kids being sent home, for professional appointments and assessments, or working endless hours to afford costly testing and therapies when all of that should be covered in their everyday learning including working closely and compassionately with a child that might otherwise be sent home in a traditional ‘inclusive’ setting. 

We also recognize that so many of our youth are being raised by grandparents so school should be a place where they know their grandchildren are safe and a respite for them of sorts, between raising a young family all over again and trying to still somewhat enjoy their golden years whether its a day at the local bingo or antique shopping with friends.

No flag. No Oh Canada. No school song or other forms of patriotism. We are thankful for one another. For the land. For Mother Earth and all her living entities. There will be sports and academic teams and we will seek to join city-wide and provincial competitions, but the focus will be on supporting one another and those who we have the privilege to compete with and to celebrate the successful plays and moments from both teams equally. We will not be Ti-cat fans but fans of our CFL game. We will not be Bulldogs faithful but fans of our youth putting so much time and effort into training to become the best athletes and people they can in a quest for their dreams. 

Everyone has an ILP (Individual Learning Plan), because each and every one of us learns differently and thrives under different circumstances and settings. These documents are available to all teachers, supports, volunteers, and professionals who engage with our youth daily via electronic means, and are reviewed often in an effort to find similarities and differences in our successes as each individual within the organizational structure continues their own life-long learning. Even their baseball coach,camp counselor, etcetera have access to the ILP’s for comments and to help provide activities that youth can thrive in as best we can.

There are no police liaison officers within the school which is not out of disrespect for the roles law enforcement play in our communities, but rather to be mindful that some students or their families may have had encounters with the law. School needs to be a place of hope. Of forgiveness. Second chances, without reminders of where life may have taken them so far, but of the opportunities available to them through our programming, mentorship, and compassion – free of judgement and void feeling as though they are under law enforcement’s watchful eye.

Although we refer to one school board as public and one Catholic, the public board is still one of authoritarian design. Dances, trips, and other ‘rewards’ will not be cancelled due to poor marks or behavior at Square Apple. Where a hat. Chew gum. Express yourself within at least limits respecting the feelings of others. In school suspensions will more often than not replace out of school options, with spaces and staff always available to work onsite with our youth and their families. In so many cases, school is the best place for youth to be whether it’s learning, nutrition, physical health, mental well-being, and the presence of a large staff , volunteer, and student base of caring adults and peers. We believe that with the exception of extreme circumstances, that sending students home does not offer them the lessons learned and support that should follow making human mistakes. 

“I’ve chaired expulsion and SAL (Supervised Alternative Learning) hearings, and have seen long rap sheets of suspensions, expulsions, missed school days, and poor grades over a lengthy period of time before their case was brought before a Trustee. What if we had a system in place that focused more on physical and mental well-being, and less on grades or discipline or inclusion at all costs? Let’s keep kids in school at their best, AND during their hardest of struggles, and give them the tools to engage in alternatives on their own accord rather than waiting for the hierarchical processes of failed inclusion to throw them an olive branch. That’s when we show them that we truly care and that they matter so much more than rankings on some institutional list, or proving the success of our political ideologies. That’s when we say to them it isn’t about the delivery, but that they want to engage in learning.” Larry Pattison, former HWDSB Trustee and Protector at INSE.

SAL and suspension options will be offered in our school for students of boards without the capacity for such programming, or as a compliment to their existing offerings, and we will also accept students when they are ready for such programming. Not because a Trustee finally said they could in grade 11, or as a result of  life having gotten to a point where suspension or expulsion programming is necessary. Just because. 

Many fought to save schools like Mountain and Parkview because it provided options. They were closed in the name of inclusion, leaving students in Hamilton with very few options beyond a traditional school, to find their own personal definition of inclusion.

“There are many cities in Canada that would like to have what you are giving up
(Parkview),” Paul W. Bennett, founding director of Schoolhouse Consulting in Halifax,
N.S., told The Spectator

At INSE, education is an essential service because we define education as:

Curriculum and services designed to address the current and long term mental and physical well being of our students, where an individual is classified as a student of INSE for as long as they are engaging in our learning programs, benefiting from our services, or actively engaged in the INSE community in a matter promoting or supporting it’s growth and long-term sustainability, and are available for such designation from birth to life (B2L).

Without INSE, some of our students and volunteers would not be eating right if at all. They would not be getting the socio-emotional support they need on a sometimes daily basis. INSE is a 24-7, 365 day a year organization so that all those connected to our family from students, staff, to volunteers, have a place to go for support whether of a professional nature, friendship, or a safe, quiet place to find refuge.   

The above text is more or less a first draft put together to provide a glimpse into some of the thoughts that have been tossed around among us over the past 6 years. 

I may have gone into the weeds a bit too deep as I have been accused of doing on occasion, but I don’t do so because I see this as exactly what this school experience might look like, but rather to start a conversation about how every tiny element of a typical Square Apple Institute day might play out. It’s also meant to invoke a discussion about our dream to bring back a Parkview and Mountain type learning option. What would they have become had they been respected and valued the way they should have been for how they inspired and turned the lives of so many youth and families around? Those systems weren’t perfect, but it’s only because they were never given the chance to shine beyond those who were lucky enough to see the magic on display each day beyond the bricks and mortar. 

“School is a time for dreams, every kid deserves this.” – Shannen Koostachin 

Let’s truly create something together where students from all walks of life have a great deal more time to do just that. Dream.

Some supportive curriculum thoughts from HWDSB educator Michael Root, that were proposed during the struggle to save Parkview Secondary School in Hamilton that I wanted to share.

System School for Students of Promise(Part 1) –  https://www.hwdsb.on.ca/secondaryarc/files/2011/01/Draft-Proposal-for-HWDSB-North-Cluster-ARC2-proposed-by-Mic.pdf

System School for Students of Promise(Part 2) – https://www.hwdsb.on.ca/secondaryarc/files/2011/01/Draft-Proposal-for-HWDSB-North-Cluster-ARC2-proposed-by-Michael-Root-part-2.pdf 

3 thoughts on “Square Apple Institute – The Curriculum

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