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NICE program provides hands-on learning, builds relationships

January 22, 2020

tinyhome_news.jpgAttending Nutana Collegiate has proven to be a NICE experience for students who are part of an out-of-the-ordinary approach to high school education.

The Nutana Industry and Career Education (NICE) program offers students a unique school experience through integrated, hands-on learning. Unlike traditional high school classes, students in NICE spend the entire year with the same cohort of classmates and teachers and emphasis is placed on building relationships, belonging, and responsibility among the class.

"The goal of this program was to do something completely different that would help students achieve not only graduation, but successful and fulfilling career paths," said Nicole Stevens, one of four teachers who contribute to the program.

"The students in our class are 17- to 20-years-old and most have five or fewer credits — regular classroom experiences were not working. We wanted to focus on building relationship, creating a place where students felt like they belonged and providing more relevant learning experiences. We relate curricular content to real life, careers, or industry as much as possible."

The program, which was launched in the fall of 2018, sees students earn credits toward graduation through classes including English language arts, workplace and apprenticeship math, native studies, health science, psychology, entrepreneurship, and practical and applied arts courses that focus on horticulture and tourism as well as carpentry and construction.

Hands-on, experiential learning is incorporated into each subject with a focus on industry and career concepts, knowledge, and skill building. Projects hit multiple outcomes in many different subject areas at once and the goal for the program's teachers is to integrate subjects as much as possible.

For example, the program's tiny house project is a direct connection to construction, but it also allows students to demonstrate learning in math and tourism and exposes them to potential career paths and the need for skilled trades people. Building a house also facilitates discussion in English language arts on the themes of home and issues regarding homelessness.

Students appreciate the way in which the program responds to their individual learning styles and interests in the way that traditional high school courses may not.

baking_news.jpg"I like the hands-on learning," said Damon Loran, one of 21 students in this year's class. "At the beginning of the year I was really into the tiny house and through the construction teacher I was able to work on a go-cart — I am very interested in mechanics so that was fun to do."

Luka Kelly was attending Aden Bowman Collegiate when a teacher told her about the NICE program. She was happy to be accepted into this year's class.

"There are a couple of things that are different about the NICE program compared to other classes and schools. I like how it is really all-in-one and it is easier to understand. Even if you don't understand it you have multiple teachers who can help you understand – I think that is amazing," she said.

"There are lots of different opportunities in the program. There are a bunch of career outlets and it is super amazing and I enjoy it so much. There are tons of skills within the program and that is another big reason why I joined — to learn a lot of these skills that I thought would likely help me with a career."

Classmate Kiyari McNab  seconds that feeling: "Being in this class has really given me skills that I don't think I would have been able to develop on my own."

The teachers say the program empowers students to take risks and step outside their comfort zone thanks to their strong connection with each other and their teachers. They build confidence through hands-on and integrated learning and as a result are achieving more credits than in their past high school experiences.

"They learn they are capable and can persevere," Stevens said. "They learn they have a place where they belong and are cared about. They give and receive understanding and compassion and they learn to work together toward a common goal."

The positive attitude and energy of the program's students and staff is important to student Utin Ermine.

"The environment, classroom — the whole school in fact — is a great school. The teachers, friends and people in general are very accepting and you can talk to them without being shy," he said. "If you are having trouble, teachers can see that and they will ensure that you get the learning that you need to go forward. That's amazing — it helps a lot."

NICE riverbank_news.jpgAs they work to meet curricular outcomes, students tackle a range of projects and learning opportunities, both big and small. The tiny house project is one example, but there is also a greenhouse where sales last spring raised $4,000 that went back into the program. An escape room, restaurant, and weekly snack shack within the school are among the other large projects.

Certifications such as food safe, first aid and CPR, and in customer service provide students with valuable skills for both employment and life. Experiences outside of the school and guest speakers allow students to learn in the wider community and from community members, traditional knowledge keepers, and elders. The result is a rich learning experience across several curricula that also demonstrates to students how curricular outcomes come alive in the "real world."

For the teachers, NICE is an opportunity to try something different for students who need a new approach to learning, and the program's teaching team have received substantial support and encouragement from Nutana's administrators since the program's launch.

"Teaching in this program has challenged us to learn, reflect, grow, and evolve constantly," Stevens said. "It certainly hasn't always been easy, but we want to bring our 'A-game' and know what we are doing is best for our students. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your students feel ownership and confidently succeed at what they are learning."