Innovative Learning with iGen

“We learn the human spirit is not the person’s body.”

Integrated classrooms have become the latest trend when it comes to innovative learning. These programs take students out of the regular teaching environment and show them firsthand the subjects that they are learning. Some notable ones include Collective Voice, the grade nine social justice program based out of Aden Bowman, Outdoor School, the environment and adventure program based out of College Park, along with many others. Earlier this week, as part of the National Congress on Rural Education, I was able to attend a tour of the Intergenerational Classroom (iGen) at Sherbrooke Community Centre to learn more about the different forms of innovative learning.

From the moment one walks into the building, Sherbrooke Community Centre instantly feels like a home. That is because, for many, it is. What makes iGen so unique is that the Elders that either live at Sherbrooke or participate in any of its many daily programs give and receive knowledge from the grade six students that attend the iGen program. It is a fulltime program available to any students entering grade six that are in the Saskatoon Public School Division. Students must apply for one of twenty-five available spots using an application process that removes any sign of identity (race, gender, etc.) so that acceptance is based solely on the traits and qualities described on the form and through references. In a program all about acceptance, this process is very fitting.

Keri Albert, founder of iGen, talked to the group about the story behind the program, and why she started it. For a long time, Keri had a dream of starting a school that involved the community and different age groups that could learn from one another. When she heard about an art program run by Susan Whiteland that fit this idea of community-based, intergenerational learning, it suddenly occurred to Keri how she wanted this program to take shape. A visionary committee made up of people with all the necessary positions and skillsets needed to start this new and innovative program was put together, and, over time, iGen was created. Since its creation four years ago, iGen has grown immensely.

The tour itself was hosted by the students. Two students were assigned to each guest and were sent to start the tour at a specific location. Out of the many impressive aspects of the iGen program, the thing that blew my mind the most was the maturity of the youth. They knew the stories behind all the art in the hallways, they understood the importance of different programs held at the Community Centre, and they seemed to know every Elder that we passed by. These students participate daily in clubs and activities with the Elders, learning from them and teaching them at the same time.  Developing these relationships is a key aspect of iGen.

As an aside, it is worth noting that the students in the program specifically refer to the persons at Sherbrooke Community Centre as Elders with a capital “E”.  Much like the term Elder is used in First Nations communities to identify persons of certain experience as worthy of respect, in iGen they believe that persons with experience and ability to pass knowledge down to future generations deserve such a title of respect.

There was another thing that really stood out to me the most on the tour. At one point, my tour guides stopped and turned to me. One of them explained to me that there had recently been a loss in the family, so I gave her my condolences and asked how she was holding up. She responded by explaining that she has grown close with many Elders who have passed away and that experiencing these losses at such a young age has helped her learn to deal with grief.

At that point, the school’s nickname, the School of Real Life, suddenly made sense. People often do not understand that learning in schools is more than just math and science; it is life lessons and values that shape the worldview of the students. As someone who has been in two different integrated educational programs, I know firsthand that these unique learning environments can teach these important skills more than a regular classroom setting; however, when it comes down to it, that is just my personal learning habits. Everyone learns in their own way, and for some a regular learning environment is the best place to grow.

I am honoured to have gone on this tour of the iGen Sherbrooke Community Centre and to have met the amazing Elders, teachers, and students that are involved in this program. We were welcomed with open arms and were shown extreme hospitality, and the students who are learning and growing in that accepting environment are going to grow up to spread that love around the world.