Olivia Scrimshaw is busier than ever as she juggles her schedule as a student and aspiring cellist.
But the unique approach to learning offered by Saskatoon Public Schools' Flex Program is providing the Grade 9 student with more time to pursue her passion for music while also igniting a greater commitment to her education.
"Flex has enabled me to double my (music) lessons and take them during the school day. It has been extremely refreshing and, in some ways, freeing. The stresses of trying to balance my extracurricular activities, academics and self-care have greatly diminished. This program has not only lessened my stress, but because I have the opportunity to work with my cello and theory teachers more often my skill level has improved greatly," says Scrimshaw, who plans to audition for the Saskatoon Youth Orchestra.
"My academics have improved a lot over the last two years. I definitely feel more motivated to learn and work hard, maybe because most days I am leaving school shortly after lunch to do what I love. This motivates me to stay focused and get as much done as I can before I leave school for the day."
Scrimshaw is not alone in seeing the benefits of the program's approach to providing a flexible, blended learning environment that allows students to pursue high-level training in arts and athletics outside of school.
The Flex Program was launched at City Park School in the fall of 2015 with 17 students. Now in its second year of operation the program has more than 40 students in Grade 7-10 who are involved in artistic pursuits such as cello and piano as well as athletes who train and compete in sports including diving, swimming, equestrian, hockey, soccer and baton.
"The Flex program allows students from a diverse variety of activities, neighbourhoods and backgrounds to come together to learn and share their experience with each other," says teacher Mark Peterson.
"Our students are all involved in some sort of extracurricular activity that involves missing parts of the school day for training, practices or competitions. Our instruction model is structured to support these students and their schedules to ensure there is a balance in their school, home and activity lives. We are able to do this with a blended learning model that involves a combination of face-to-face instruction and online learning with the support of Google classroom."
The blended-learning model offered by the Flex Program adapts to meet the individual needs of each student. All aspects of learning, whether in the classroom or online, are guided by the program's two teachers and the daily schedule includes flex-time opportunities for students to connect with their teachers to ask questions and receive direct feedback on their learning.
Sisters Alison and Lauren Cey are divers who compete at the national level with the Saskatoon Diving Club and have aspirations to compete internationally. The Grade 7 students currently train for two to three hours each weekday and compete at least once a month between January and July. Next year their training commitment will increase to 18 to 21 hours per week when they move up an age group.
"We decided on the Flex program because before the Flex program we missed classes and it was hard to catch up because we were one of 31 other students who all had different needs than us," Alison says. "At Flex program everyone has other interests and commitments. Our teachers help us stay on pace with our assignments and we use Google Classroom to help us anywhere in the country."
The program's flexible, blended approach is much different from their previous school, says Lauren, adding that it would be difficult to try and balance the demands of school and training as a student in a regular elementary classroom.
"It would be a lot harder to get your work done because it's not all online to access and you would miss a lot of schoolwork in the day," she says. "Sometimes we have to leave in the afternoon, so you would miss some classes and it would be really hard to get your work done."
The sisters are a good fit for the Flex program because they are independent learners who are motivated to work hard in and out of school. And, with four other divers also enrolled in the Flex Program, the teammates are able to help each other with homework and assignments.
Both Scrimshaw and the Cey sisters say and the efforts of the teaching staff to support the students' training and competition schedules helps bring a better overall balance to their lives.
"It is the flexibility of the program that makes it work," Scrimshaw says. "We have 40 students, all with different schedules, and the Flex Program accommodates each of them. The teachers in Flex are special people who care for us, have high expectations for us and believe that each of us can achieve at high levels both academically and in extracurricular.
"The independence I have developed while in the Flex Program has given me the confidence in my music abilities, socially and in the classroom. I feel that I am a different person since becoming a Flex student."
More information on the unique approach to learning offered by the Flex Program is available at www.saskatoonpublicschools.ca/flex