The circus has come to town at W.P. Bate School, but there's definitely no elephants nor is there a tiny car packed tightly with clowns.
The school's circus arts program launched in physical education classes and grew into an extracurricular opportunity that brings together students of all ages and experience for regular practices.
"From the start, our goal with this initiative is to create space for students who have historically had a difficult relationship with physical education. With the younger groups, there was a genuine sense of excitement from the beginning," said teacher Lynden Proctor. "Regardless of experience or ability levels, circus arts in PE are for everyone."
The program was initially aimed at students in Grade 3 to Grade 5, but it was quickly expanded to include students in Grade 2-7 due to significant interest. The extracurricular program followed as an opportunity for students to build on their skills in a learning environment outside of class time.
Circus arts incorporates a wide range of activities. Plate spinning, walking a slack line, riding a unicycle, walking on stilts, or juggling anything from scarves to clubs are all part of the experience. The opportunity to learn a unique skill and the perseverance required to be successful has been embraced by students.
"Circus arts creates a rich learning environment at the intersection of physical education and the performing arts," Proctor said. "It's given opportunities to students to self-identify areas of interest and work towards building their skills and confidence. We're seeing students who are reluctant to participate in our more 'traditional' PE activities shine in circus arts. This newfound confidence permeates into all areas of the school day."
Physical education is for everyone, Proctor said, emphasizing the importance of ensuring movement opportunities are accessible and fun for learners of all backgrounds and abilities. The variety provided by circus arts allows students to build their relationship with activity and serves as an equalizer.
"For myself, circus arts instruction in physical education required a pedagogical shift towards becoming a facilitator of learning where students were given time and space to explore the self-selected skills that interested them, with guidance," he said. "This learning environment fosters growth and development across the three foundational curricular pillars of active living, skillful movement, and relationships."
Funding support from Saskatoon Public Schools Foundation "provided a spark of interest and wonder" through the purchase of variety of equipment needed to successfully offer the program. Resources from Physical & Health Education Saskatchewan enhanced and supported learning.
The school's extracurricular program is the result of the success and joy experienced by students while learning new skills in class. It allows students to extend their learning through purposeful practice in a fun and social movement environment. More than three dozen students gathered for practice three times a week in advance of a public performance on June 10.
While the physical benefits of circus arts are apparent, teachers report a broader, holistic growth among students. That includes the development of confidence and competence to try new skills, positive social interaction while learning alongside peers, and opportunities for student mentorship across grade levels.
"One of the beautiful things about circus arts in PE is watching students support each other in a positive way. Peer mentorship has played a significant role in building our program this year," Proctor said. "Students who historically have been reluctant to participate in PE, are thriving. They've become leaders and student mentors to younger students."
Proctor said there is a community of teachers interested in building a circus arts program in their schools and the partnership with the foundation is a catalyst for providing opportunities and supporting another perspective on physical education. He invites other teachers to learn and share in the experience at W.P. Bate and the impact it has on students.
"Many of our students have expressed their joy while learning how to juggle or a sense of accomplishment while learning a new trick with the spinning plates," he said. "There are students experiencing breakthroughs often. It's super cool to see students so excited and proud to show the new skills they acquired."