Oak Learners is Bridging the Gap for Ontario Students through Arts and Mindfulness-based Elementary Education
Anxiety levels are up and test scores are down. Ontario students are experiencing record levels of stress, anxiety and suicidal rates are higher than ever before, but students are still under daily pressure to perform to meet provincial standards.
Experts agree that now is the time for early intervention strategies, including introducing self-regulation techniques to children, expanding support for Arts programs in schools, and empowering teachers to recognize and support children with mental health concerns.
Oak Learners brings together the latest research and access to community support systems to provide a unique opportunity for children and their families experiencing difficulties in the current school system. Our project-based and personalized approach to learning addresses the immediate need for changes in education in Ontario.
Rising Mental Health Concerns in Ontario Students
Recent studies on Ontario students have shown that mental health concerns are reaching critical levels with one-third of students found to have moderate to severe symptoms. The Ontario Ministry of Education reports that at least 20% of children and youth have mental health concerns, including anxiety problems, behaviour problems (including ADHD and conduct disorder), mood problems (e.g., depressive disorders), and substance use problems.
Since 2013, there has been a 10% increase in the number of students in need of mental health services while less than 25% of those in need are actually receiving the support. Studies also show that seventy per cent of adult mental illness begins in childhood which points to how many children are slipping through the cracks.
Without early treatment, children experience failure in school attendance, academic achievement and miss out on developing important social and learning skills. Anxiety, in particular, causes changes in the brain-body system that actually inhibit students’ ability to learn.
The Ontario Ministry of Education has recognized the “substantial and important connections between creativity, high academic achievement, economic and social entrepreneurialism, leadership, and problem solving” in its 21st Century Competencies discussion document and yet, 40% of schools have no music teacher or specialist teachers in other arts areas and many elementary teachers report that they are not equipped to deal with rising mental health concerns in their classrooms.
Bridging the Gap for all students
Recognizing the need for increased support for students experience difficulty in the school system, Oak Learners brings together experienced and energetic educators to provide an enriched and supportive learning environment for their students.
While acknowledging the importance of ensuring our students are meeting or exceeding the Ontario Curriculum, Oak Learners provides an enhanced alternative education program which draws from the educational philosophies of Montessori, Waldorf, Enki, Homeschooling, Unschooling and Constructivism. Our program is enriched through the Arts, outdoor exploration and through encouraging the natural curiosity of our learners.
Our Bridge the Gap program is intended to provide a personalized and enriched approach to each child’s school journey. Students may attend for one, two or five days per week and participate in programs that will support their challenges or enhance their strengths. For part-time students, we work together with the family to design a program that complements the rest of their school week.
Oak Learners has been offering flexibility to families since 2015. Parents collaborate with educators and support workers to create an individualized learning plan, delivered in a safe, nurturing and creative environment. The progressive, interdisciplinary approach to programming engages students in the learning process and supports them in developing essential skills in 21st century competencies, including resiliency, goal setting, collaboration, technology and creativity.
Key benefits of the boutique-style classrooms at Oak Learners include daily mindfulness practices and inquiry-based curriculum with full arts-integration. Low student-teacher ratios allow teachers to be completely involved in each stage of student learning and to build stronger and more supportive relationships among peers. With more support and teacher involvement, students are more motivated to succeed and become more involved in their own education, setting them up for future successes.
The Many Benefits of Mindfulness in the Classroom
Mindfulness practices have been creeping into classrooms and major corporations, including Google, across North America in recent years, with astounding success rates in reducing stress and anxiety while also increasing productivity and test-performance.
At Oak Learners, mindfulness techniques are introduced to children from a young age, through which they are taught to recognize different feelings in their body, both emotionally and physically, which help to increase self-awareness and resilience habits.
Inquiry-Based Learning as the best model of education
In 2013, the Ontario Ministry of Education recognized that inquiry-based learning offers “promise in supporting students to become thoughtful, motivated, collaborative and innovative learners capable of engaging in their own inquiries and thriving in a world of constant change”.
Students work together with teacher-mentors at Oak Learners to investigate the world around them while honing academic and learning skills to build a solid educational foundation for lifelong learning.
Creativity & Arts are Integral to 21st Century Education
When Arts Education is integrated across the curriculum, students benefit from a highly enriched learning opportunity. A 2013 report from People for Education examined the importance of Arts in Education, stating that “arts education can help children develop critical higher-level skills, including creativity, problem-solving, communication, self-discipline, tolerance and critical thinking”.
Students as Oak Learners have the opportunities to learn from professional musicians, artists and creative professionals in a variety of disciplines, thus expanding their appreciation for the diversity of opportunities open to them.