Island Discovery Learning Centre recognized for innovation in education

The Canadian Education Association (CAE) has awarded Bowen Island’s Island Discovery Learning Community (IDLC) with the Ken Spencer Award for innovation. The award recognizes schools that “have impactful programs that embed deep learning while challenging our traditional concept of school.” Eighty schools across Canada applied for the award, seven of them will be awarded a grant of $1,000 from the CAE.
“This is a wonderful acknowledgement of the tireless work our founding mothers, staff and families have done over the years to make Island Discovery an educationally innovative and sustainable program,” says IDLC Founder and Principal Allan Saugstad. “So many of us have worked to build this model of flexible and student-centered learning embodying the B.C. Education Ministry goals of 21st century learning.”
Saugstad and a group of dedicated parents created IDLC in 2003. At the time, Saugstad was looking for an educational alternative for his daughters, who were 5 and 7 years old.
“Five days a week in the classroom just seemed like too much,” says Saugstad. “My wife Anne-Michelle and I wanted to be really involved in their education, to have a lot of time with them, and to have a really gentle learning environment.”
Since that beginning, the Island Discovery model has expanded to include groups in North Vancouver, Vancouver, Surrey, Kamloops, Penticton, Abbotsford, Saltspring Island and Victoria. There are 390 kids enrolled overall, 80 of them on Bowen.
Here on Bowen, students have the option to attend classes two and a half days a week. A visit to the Cowan centre proves that Saugstad has definitely achieved one of his key goals in the creating an educational environment – a place where kids can take their shoes off and lessons can take place with students in a cozy living room space.
Teacher Amy Nosek has been working at IDLC since 2005, and for the bulk of her career. This year, she is working with students from grade 5 to 8, but has taught every age group including kindergarten.
She says that because IDLC offers “supported home learning,” which aims to recognize that learning happens in all kinds of different situations, diverse approaches to learning are offered up on a daily basis.
“Every family approaches learning differently,” she says. “Also, when I say there are diverse approaches to learning, I am talking about what is offered by teachers, what happens in real life, or simply what the kids are interested in.”
Nosek adds that one of the things she really loves about teaching at IDLC, is having the opportunity to really honour the kids by helping them delve into whatever it may be that they are passionate about and interested in.
This student-led approach is clearly demonstrated with an explanation of IDLC’s new music program. The program is taught and was also built by Cynthia Fairbank, who has been teaching at IDLC since the teacher’s strike ended this October.
“I started out by renting a whole bunch of instruments from Long and McQuade, just so the kids could get a feel for different instruments and figure out what they liked,” says Fairbank. “After that, they created a wish list of their top three instruments. I sent that list out to the IDLC community, and it just so happened that there were enough spare violins and saxophones in people’s closets that just about every kid got the instrument they wanted.”
Fairbank says that her classroom is very democratic, with the kids leading the way with their own interests.
“They’ll tell me all the songs they like and want to learn to play, I’ll go home and listen to the music and narrow it down, and then the class takes a vote,” she says. “Every kid feels like he or she has a voice, it is very empowering. But regardless of what song we pick we follow the process of talking about the musical elements of the song and figuring out how to play it. Through that, we manage to follow the curriculum.”
Cynthia also says that for her, this process is exciting because the learning that happens is a two way street.
“In one of my classes the kids are really into video games, and video game music. I’ve never heard of any of the artists who created this music, but some of it is really great, and it is really interesting to figure out how we’re going to play it together.”

For those interested in learning more about the program, contact Al Saugstad at 604-947-0700 or check out their website at For those looking at Kindergarten registration for next year, there will be an information meeting held on Tuesday, March 31st, from 7:30 - 8:30 p.m.

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