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North Van goes 'new school' with St Alcuin
Finding its inspiration as far afield as Helsinki, New York and San Diego, the North Shore's newest school promises to be unlike anything else within earshot when the first bell rings this fall.
But don't be fooled by its name or its location. St Alcuin College, housed in the Christian Education Centre building, isn't a new Catholic school. Named for the eighth-century father of English liberal arts education, St Alcuin aspires to be the most cutting-edge private liberal arts school in the region when it opens in September.
"If you're looking to be queen of the prom," says college co-founder Eddie de Beer, "then this probably isn't a good fit."
But while the idea of a new school model for kids who 'just aren't being challenged' in their day-to-day has become a common cliché, de Beer and fellow co-founder, Stella Ablett, maintain that St Alcuin truly isn't for everyone.
"Do you have to write a test to come in? No," de Beer tells The Outlook in the education centre lobby. "But we go and meet with the families before and determine whether or not it's going to be a good fit."
With five teachers and only 20 kindergarten to Grade 10 students enrolled so far — the school will eventually include grades 11 and 12, says Ablett — St Alcuin's exclusivity is ensured for the short-term.
And that's the way Ablett and de Beer like it.
"We're trying to install the pre-Industrial Revolution model of learning with a master," de Beer says. That means letting students pursue whatever it is they're best at, rather than pursuing what "society needs from them."
"We've got to get kids good at what they're going to do," explains de Beer, a former superintendent of schools in South Africa. "And they can't all be super-kids. We have to find those things that kids can do well."
In that spirit, the school is partnering with local professionals in health-care, creative writing, clothing design and distribution, alternative energy, occupational therapy and filmmaking, and is always on the lookout for new cooperative education opportunities.
"There's something to be said for starting at the bottom," de Beer adds.
Like San Diego's High Tech High charter schools, Manhattan's Blue School or most anything even vaguely school-like in Finland — "where you go to learn about education," Ablett says — St Alcuin's goal is to provide students a guided, personalized curriculum with real- or "adult-" world connections.
"It's not a happy-go-lucky, find-your-own-way kind of environment," de Beer says, dispelling any doubts that a self-directed curriculum is an unnecessarily easy one. "You will be challenged."
Tuition at St Alcuin College is $10,000 a year — "nobody's pocket change," admits de Beer — but still half the cost commanded by some similarly accredited, Dogwood Diploma granting private schools on the North Shore.