Learning happening everywhere is not only a proven philosophy for success in education, it’s a way of life for SelfDesign families.

What happens when a young person uses the freedom-of-time that self-directed learning offers to channel their passions and become unwaveringly dedicated to a goal? Not only did SelfDesign learner, Sophie, 18, spend her Grade 9 year learning while travelling across South America with her family, this dedication and perseverance equated to her winning the Ministry of B.C. Achievement Award for 2019.

Sophie is the focus of our blog series, What Sets Us Apart, where we explore how SelfDesign is unique. In this case, we explore our philosophy and approach that learning happens everywhere.

“Receiving the Ministry of B.C. Achievement Award for 2019 is a validation of all the work that I did at SelfDesign,” said Sophie.

Being nominated for the Ministry of B.C. Achievement Award award alone was an incredible honour for Sophie, but winning was a validation of this exceptional young person’s hardwork and dedication.

“As a parent, you think your kid is just so special and amazing,” said Ginette Dube, Sophie’s mom. “But when they win an award like this, it’s affirming to see other people validate that feeling. Sophie’s work ethic and ability to do things well is exceptional.”

When Sophie was in Grade 9, she, along with her younger sister and parents, spent an entire year on the road travelling through South America. This was made possible by the fact that Sophie and her sister, Lisane, were both doing their schooling through SelfDesign.

“We went to Costa Rica, Cuba, Uruguay, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador,” said Sophie. “Mostly we stayed in hostels or rented apartments and it wasn’t about all-inclusive-resorts or relaxation. It wasn’t even really a vacation, it was more of an adventure.”

An adventure where learning was brought to life for Sophie, not despite the travels but because of them. You might picture squeezing lessons in between running from one place to the next, but in reality, most of the time Sophie was able to integrate authentic real-life everyday things that came up in their travels into formal learning.

“The whole experience was self-directed,” said Sophie. “I loved the freedom of coming up with learning topics as we traveled in order to gain more from the experience itself. For example, I wrote essays while I was in Cuba about the Cuban Revolution. My learning consultant, Tracey, gave weekly reflections on what I was learning and gave me resources and book recommendations that were supportive of the direction I was able to determine myself.”

A cornerstone of SelfDesign’s raison d’etre is the concept that learning happens everywhere. Sophie’s experience of truly delving deep into the cultures she was immersed in exemplifies this ideal so beautifully. SelfDesign follows the B.C, curriculum, so math and science were woven into her time as well.

“When you’re immersed in different cultures, languages and activities,” said Sophie. “You’re just bound to learn things. When we went to the Galapagos, my learning consultant gave me a book on Charles Darwin,” said Sophie. “I read it and got completely obsessed with it. I was learning about all the species and the ideas he had. I was looking at the animals and talking about it. That was awesome.”

SelfDesign’s Principal of Educational Programs, Nikki Kenyon, believes it doesn’t matter whether you’re in your home, community, neighbourhood or travelling around the province or country – there is always something that sparks a question or interest and SelfDesign allows learners the possibility to explore that.

“The beauty of it is learning can happen anywhere,” Nikki explains. “SelfDesign is founded on the philosophy that true learning arises as you are in relationship – relationship with those around you and with your environment. This means that no matter where you are in the world, you can have meaningful and relevant learning experiences.”

In the year prior to travelling across South America, Sophie hadn’t done well at math at the conventional school she was attending but because she was learning math on her own while travelling, and working at her own pace in a one-on-one environment, she said she was able to really learn instead of falling through the cracks.

“If I didn’t get something, I had to learn it,” explained Sophie, about the conventional school math program. “If I didn’t, it would show and I wasn’t allowed to fall behind. My experience learning math in a classroom full of students was that none of it would make sense, and I would get behind and not be able to catch up again because every class we would move forward. During the year of travel I was able to move at my own pace – going really slowly in some parts and speeding through other parts.”

Sophie also spent a lot of time furthering her skills in illustration – the thing that she is now pursuing at a post-secondary level. This fall, she moved to Ontario to attend College and is working towards a degree in Illustration.

Here’s to all learners having the freedom to pursue their passions, no matter where they are.