The Whole School

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5614 British Columbia 6, Winlaw, BC, Canada

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The Whole School originated as a collective group of home-school students in early 1972 best described by the words of one of the school’s founders, Joel Harris; “The “Free School” as we immediately came to be known, moved from one large family farmhouse to another three times each week, including Saturday so children in public schools, often siblings, could participate on a part-time basis. We had classes in every room, lots of running space and outbuildings.


Volunteer parents taught plus a few friends without kids and certified teachers, attracted by the freedom they would have to shape their own work, also came forward. Working parents could also participate as Mentors in their children's and their neighbors children’s education and fulfill the school’s volunteer requirements, because it was never “free.” Our rapid success and the limitations and logistics of moving fifty kids around all the time, gave rise to the notion of acquiring a school house.

After forming a non-profit society in May of 1973, these dedicated parents and community members created “The Whole School” which continues to this day to hold many of the same core values: inclusion, freedom and parent/mentor involvement.

SCHOOL PROGRAM

Our elementary school program supports children’s learning from Kindergarten to Grade 7 assessment levels.   Those students attending full time, working on curriculum from grades 1 to 7, are with us five days per week while our Kindergarten program runs two to three full days per week.  Our school week consists of four days learning  in the school environment and the fifth day reserved for Outdoor Leadership Program activities.


All classes at The Whole School are small, multi-aged and cultivate a non-competitive environment.  These elements are felt to be crucial to ensure that our students experience a secure, nurturing environment.  This safe environment enables them to become risk-takers who trust enough to make mistakes and leaders who are willing to express their own opinions openly and freely.

Our non-competitive approach, which is also non-graded, empowers the students to appreciate differences and enjoy each others’ successes.  Self-evaluation and self-motivation are key to the assessment of these goals.


Our classrooms are configured so that students move through a variety of different cooperative groupings based on their individualized instruction and non-graded learning plans.

Our school values the safety and compassion of continuous progress.  To enable each student to experience success, teachers work one on one with the students to develop ongoing, individual, achievable goals.

  • Small class sizes of 15 or less

  • Multi-age groupings

  •  Focus on individualized instruction

  • Staff of 3 teachers, plus 1 education assistant, and administration

  • Five day school week

  • BC Curriculum

  • Enrichment classes in Music, Art, Theatre, and Gardening for the entire school

  • Outdoor Leadership Program for all grade levels integrating communication, self-direction, organization, team-work, leadership, self-care, and environmental stewardship skill building.


Generosity Project

Every year the students at the Whole School pick a topic about which they feel passionate and organize a fundraiser or two for that issue.  These Whole School Generosity Projects bring topics about marginalized people, places and issues into the classroom and introduces concepts of goodwill and working for the good of others.  Look to the News tab for more information about what the students did for this year’s project.

Outdoor Leadership Program

Students are in the classroom four days a week – Monday through Thursday. Fridays are reserved for Outdoor Leadership Program activities.  During OLPs the students are outdoors all day at various locations throughout the West Kootenays.

The Outdoor Leadership Program is designed to provide students with an extended experiential learning opportunity with an enhanced physical education experience. This program encourages development of the skills to help children safely explore the natural world. The program promotes self-direction, organization, and fosters self-care and collective decision making.  

 Through this style of learning, children develop leadership, team-work skills, and the importance of taking care of the natural world. Annual activities include biking, hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, down hill skiing, skating, swimming, and gymnastics.

Attachment Theory

Our elementary school program supports children’s learning from Kindergarten to Grade 7 assessment levels.   Those students attending full time, working on curriculum from grades 1 to 7, are with us five days per week while our Kindergarten program runs two to three full days per week.  Our school week consists of four days learning  in the school environment and the fifth day reserved for Outdoor Leadership Program activities.

All classes at The Whole School are small, multi-aged and cultivate a non-competitive environment.  These elements are felt to be crucial to ensure that our students experience a secure, nurturing environment.  This safe environment enables them to become risk-takers who trust enough to make mistakes and leaders who are willing to express their own opinions openly and freely.

Our non-competitive approach, which is also non-graded, empowers the students to appreciate differences and enjoy each others’ successes.  Self-evaluation and self-motivation are key to the assessment of these goals.

Our classrooms are configured so that students move through a variety of different cooperative groupings based on their individualized instruction and non-graded learning plans.

Our school values the safety and compassion of continuous progress.  To enable each student to experience success, teachers work one on one with the students to develop ongoing, individual, achievable goals.

Circle of Courage

In Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit cultures the Circle of Courage is a model of youth empowerment supported by contemporary research, the heritage of early youth work pioneers and Native philosophies of child care. The model is encompassed in four core values: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. The central theme of this model is that a set of shared values must exist in any community to create environments that ultimately benefit all.

When the Whole School began learning about the Circle of Courage model, it seemed to reflect many of the values we hold important as a community and provide a structure through which we could bring these teachings to the children and parents of the community.
The teachers quickly integrated Circle of Courage teachings into the daily curriculum and also used it to support our holistic approach to tracking the progress of each child.  It has been a natural process of integrating the ‘Virtues Program’ of the Whole School with the values brought forth through the Circle of Courage.

The Circle of Courage has been incorporated into the Whole School curriculum in a number of ways, starting with discussion of core values at the morning circle each day with our students. 

These core values guide the structure throughout the day for students, such as in acting out values through drama or as a great focal tool for discussion in our literature circles. Then at closing circle, to acknowledge other’s positive actions throughout the day, students and staff share their written ‘Positive Vibration’ notes to be taken home by students allowing them to share these values with their families. 


On a broader level, every year the students and teachers cooperatively create a student contract that reflects the ideal teaching environment, now they incorporate the core values of the Circle of Courage. The four core values are also emphasized in the structure of the annual Winter Performance and are a focus for student’s skits. Furthermore, the students hold regular Generosity Projects to give back to the community. For example, once the students decided to raise money for residents who lost their homes in a local building fire by making and selling hot chocolate in the community.


 Beyond the classroom, the actual “circle” of the Circle of Courage model is used to develop Individual Education Plans, the four core values are a framework for annual student reports and the students complete annual self-assessments that reflect how they see these values reflected in their learning.

Parent Teacher Cooperation

Part of the gift of The  Whole School is the inclusion of parents in the school life of their children.
The health of our school depends on our parents and the community volunteering their time and skills – everyone working together.

Parents are needed to fund-raise, transport students to Outdoor Leadership Program activities and field trips, and participate on committees.

We actively encourage each family to contribute to our school program by collaborating with the teachers during curriculum and parent general meetings.

WORK TRADE

Families can apply for Work Trade positions to cover a portion of their tuition. Work Trade is a wonderful way to be a part of the Whole School community. For more information on the types of positions and what it could look like for your family, contact the School Coordinator.

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