Headwaters Academy is located on 110 acres of shared outdoor space with the Elephant Thoughts Experiential Education Centre, formerly known as Kimbercote Farm. Perched on the Niagara Escarpment overlooking Georgian Bay, we have streams, ponds, forests, and fields with the Beaver River a short walk away. We also have access to a further 200 acres, including workable farm land, for outdoor education studies and students’ innovation, entrepreneurship, and enjoyment. We will have bee hives on site, small animals, gardens, and aquaponic systems (probably all by the end of our first year). In other words, our promise of daily outdoor and experiential education is not one that we take lightly.
However, I am sometimes asked whether Headwaters Academy is an outdoor education school. The short answer is ‘yes’, but also ‘no’.
Yes, we are an outdoor education school when you consider the promise to have our children understand the natural world surrounding them and not be one of those oft-quoted kids who can identify 200 corporate logos but not know four tree species in their backyard. Yes, we are an outdoor school when you consider how much learning our children do outside. Yes, we are the school where your child will receive more fresh air than 99.9% of the other schools in the country (we say 99.9% as a nod to our friends at Coast Mountain Academy who are also doing a great job of getting their students outside and in to their community)!
But no, we are not an outdoor education school when the common perception of the term ‘outdoor education’ is applied. Sadly, ‘outdoor education’ has become relegated to the periphery of what most people consider a quality education. Our collective experience of outdoor education has become one of ‘escape’ from the classroom rather than an ‘extension’ of the classroom. In this sense we are not an outdoor education school. We do not go outside to escape; we do not go outside for ill-structured learning because our teachers are not adapted to the concept of outdoor education. Rather, we have purposeful reasons to be outside. A recent Ontario Farmer article claimed that the tiles in tile drainage systems are moving closer together – we will build models and test the ‘why’ of this move while also speaking to local farmers about their experiences. Colony Collapse Disorder threatens the local and worldwide bee populations – we need to be part of the provincial monitoring program on this issue. The Fibonacci sequence exists on pine cones – where else in nature can we find this? The Niagara Escarpment is a micro-climate for tender fruit production on the Niagara Penninsula – does our particular location have micro-climatic zones? What does this mean for potential agriculture at Kimbercote Farm, the local apple industry, the burgeoning wine industry, and even the ski resorts location on the escarpment? Can we work to innovate in these areas?
Is Headwaters Academy an outdoor education school? Our long answer is ‘it depends on what you are calling an outdoor school…’