A new semester begins at the Cortes Island Academy

The Cortes Island Academy kicked off its second year with a ‘meet and greet’ barbeque on Tuesday, September 5. Students and homestay parents met with some of the people working behind the scenes. School started the following day.

“Right now, the students are just going back into the classroom after being in Carrington for the last four days on a camping trip that started on the weekend and went into the week.  They are still in the  outdoor education fundamentals getting to know each other part of the semester,” explained Manda Aufochs Gillespie, the Academy’s principal Board member.

Manda Aufochs Gillespie, Executive Director of the Cortes Island Academy – submitted photo

“This semester we’re trying a number of new things with the Cortes Island Academy. We learned a lot from last year, the successes and the things that we could improve upon. One of the things that we’re doing this year is more consistent facilitation throughout the whole program.”

“We are so, so excited to be welcoming Michael Detura as the new principal at the Cortes Island School,and also our new lead school teacher. All the students who come to the Cortes Island Academy now are registered as students in the school.  It’s his job to help keep us on track as far as getting the kids their high school credits and assessing the resources and skills available through School District 72. So, if they’re getting an English new media credit, and they have to learn the skills of basic composition and being able to analyze text in a particular way, we have to figure out a way to do that, to prove that we’ve done it and he helps us make sure that we’re doing that.” 

“He’s a neat guy: young, vibrant, full of new ideas with a background in experiential education, particularly for rural and remote communities. He’s written two books, and produced a hip hop album.”

“Let me tell you a couple of things that are super, super exciting. We still are doing the block method as part of the Cortes Island Academy and in the block method, you deep dive into a particular subject. These are long days, a lot of project oriented material. We are also weaving through this year, more of the outdoor education and physical education parts, the leadership and the careers and helping us make sure that there’s continuity. We have Kai Harvey leading us,  coming in at least once  and sometimes many times a week.” 

“Kai and Tosh Harvey are leading this first block, which is a deep dive into science. Before the science block, they’re leading what they’re calling fundamentals, which is really about team building, getting to know deeply the local place around them before they start with all the science tools and principles.”

“After the science, they are doing a deep dive this year into a First People’s block and they will be led by Michael Detora.  They’ll also have in the classroom with them a number of different local knowledge holders, everyone from Kai to Odette Auger and Rex Weyler, et cetera.  Then Reel Youth will also be there as students learn the basics of documentary filmmaking and work with elders in the community to interview and bring out some of  their stories.” 

“The third block is the English new media block, which the students also participated in last year, where they learned the basics of truth telling,  or what we usually refer to as journalism, but how journalism has come about through time and our ideas of truth telling  and our tools for truth telling have changed over time.”

“They don’t just learn about the theory, they also learn audio recording skills, the production skills, and they will create their own podcast. Both a more personal, or creative type podcast, and then a full length journalistic podcast, which we will play again and again on CKTZ, Cortes Community Radio.” 

“The students will be coming on the radio every Monday for 20 weeks,  to do Teen Takeovers where they share the music that they’re listening to, but also some of the things that they’re talking about, thinking about, et cetera,  in their lives, which I think is super fun. We’re doing that with the help of Louis Belcourt, who is working with the radio and the Cortes Island Academy.” 

CC: I understand you are bringing back the old in-person Folk U format, that you used prior to COVID.

MAG: “Every Friday we are reviving the in-person Folk University. So the whole island is invited back to come into the  Cortes Island School to learn with some of the knowledge holders that will be coming and sharing with the students. So every Friday from 1 to 2:30. Cortes Island Academy students help host, along with Jemma Hickens, who people may know as another Island local who grew up here.”

“We have some really exciting knowledge holders, both local and some of the world renowned people coming in this year.  One of those people that everyone will get to come and hear from through folk university time, but also the students will get to work with Dr Briony Penn.” 

She is here as part of the Mother Tree Network

“Briony Penn is well known as an author researcher who does quite a bit of naturalist work  and looks deeply at how to weave together curricula around that in this part of the world. So that’s going to be really exciting and it’s pretty amazing that she’s coming in.”

CC: So you have a new crop of 20 students, what can you tell me about them? 

MAG: “We are really excited that the students at  the Cortes Island Academy are a truly diverse bunch. From the beginning,  we were told by many, many students who lived and grew up here that it’s not enough just to provide an educational opportunity for Cortes high school age students alone.”

“By the time they get to that age,  they want more social interaction, more intellectual stimulation, more contact with a bigger world and what’s open. So we have taken that deeply to heart and we have a program that always aims to have about 50% local and 50% of the best from the rest.”

“So this year we have a good many from Cortes, including a student from Klahoose, students from the north end of the island, and students from the south end of the island. We have five students joining us from the Surge Narrows collection of islands, homestays. We also have students from Vancouver island and from Salt Spring Island. We try to really particularly emphasize students from rural and remote communities who have a lack of access to education very similar to Cortes.”

“We have two students from Germany this year. When they are not on Cortes going to the Cortes Island Academy, one of our students from Germany actually commutes back and forth with the students coming from Sonora Island and the Surge Narrows area.”

“So, really big adventures for some of these kids and may I just reflect on how courageous it is to see these students come,  leave their homes and take a risk on such a very different form of education. It feels like we have some of the most interesting teenagers in the world with us.”

All photos courtesy Cortes Island Academy

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