When SelfDesign learners and their families, and educators gathered in the Lower Mainland last spring for our Commencement Ceremony celebrating our Class of 2022, they were treated to a performance by one of their peers.

At the ceremony, Amelia, who finished her SelfDesign learning journey in June with a Dogwood Diploma (B.C. certificate of graduation), sang a haunting traditional Celtic ballad. (A video she prepared was played at the online ceremony two weeks later.)

The performance was not just the closing act of her 3.5-year SelfDesign journey, it was a SelfDesign culmination of voice lessons she’d been taking throughout the 2021–2022 learning year as part of her self-directed SelfDesign studies.

“I did a whole project about my vocal training,” Amelia says, referring to the series of personal projects SelfDesign learners in grades 10 to 12 undertake to delve into their interests and to demonstrate their learning. “I learned about how my voice changed and shared how I took it to a festival and won awards for singing.”

The festival was the Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival, and Amelia won two awards. The festival was also where one of our Commencement Ceremony organizers and Master of Ceremonies, Michelle Buck, also a long-time participant in the Victoria performing arts scene, saw Amelia perform and invited her to sing at the ceremony.

“It was such an interesting feeling to sit in a room with all these faces I’d seen on Zoom for three or four years of my life and finally meet them in person and get to go up to the stage with them,” Amelia says of the ceremony. “It’s such a weird feeling when you meet people online and then you meet them in person. You’re like, ‘Oh, you’re a whole human being — you’re not just some strange head on a screen!’ Getting to see all my classmates in person, that was probably one of my favourite experiences at SelfDesign.”


Transition to SelfDesign

Until Amelia transferred to SelfDesign partway through grade 9, the southern Vancouver Island learner had attended only public brick-and-mortar schools. In SelfDesign, she found what she wanted and needed in a school to thrive.

“It really felt like it encompassed all of the right tools that I needed to grow as a person and to really find out why I wanted to be who I was and what I really wanted to do,” she says of our learner-centred approach to learning.

Amelia had been finding brick-and-mortar high school competitive and highly pressured.

“It felt like it was more of a battle to learn more,” she says. “I just felt like it was a very vulnerable thing to put out your learning and try and learn new things and grow as a person, only to be met with, ‘Ah, you only got to be in this class,’ ‘Oh, you didn’t get an A like this other kid,’ or ‘Oh, you need to be the better student — You’re a role model, you should be better.’ I was trying all the time to be a straight-A student for as long as I can remember. I was trying so hard and pushing myself, and my mom kind of saw that.”

At the time, her mom was enrolling Amelia’s younger brother in SelfDesign. It seemed a good time to offer the option to Amelia, too.

Even though she had a good friend who had been part of the SelfDesign® Learning Community for many years and was able to answer many of Amelia’s questions about how our program worked, Amelia needed about a year to adjust.

“At first, I was a little confused,” Amelia admits of her first months enrolled with SelfDesign Learning Community. “I was used to the stereotypes of homeschool being your parents sitting down with a book and teaching you math and teaching you English — that it was just your parents trying to, like, get you an A, and it wasn’t like an actual program.”

As learners, families and educators who have experienced SelfDesign’s unique approach to learning know, the reality of SelfDesign differs both from the usual home-learning stereotypes and from what brick-and-mortar schools offer.

We combine the flexibility of time, place and what learners focus on during their days with our weekly Observing for Learning process, where learners and parents observe and reflect on the learning that has taken place during the previous week and share that with their learning consultant. Our learning consultants guide and mentor the family through the learning process, developing a learner-specific learning plan based on the child’s own interests, passions, learning style and abilities, and suggesting resources and activities to help the learner delve into those interests and passions.

As Amelia says, many revelations can occur during the transition.

“I was like, ‘Oh, there’s actually material,’ ‘Oh, we have teachers’ [learning consultants],” she says. “I remember being like ‘Whoa! I just got to write a 40-page slideshow about birds for no reason other than I really love birds!’ It was literally all up to me. I liked the entire project, and I had free rein — I could do whatever I wanted. It felt so much like diving into what I wanted to do rather than having to do these mandatory courses like most high schools do.”

Personal projects: personal exploration and a chance to follow your bliss

Amelia found the personal projects that learners in grades 10 to 12 at SelfDesign undertake to be one of the best parts of being enrolled with SelfDesign.

These endeavours provided the “biggest encouragement, I think, in my learning journey,” she says, “because they were something that I could do throughout the whole year. I would do, like, math or science or English and all the things that I had to do, and then as a treat, I got to learn about something I wanted to learn about or learn about whatever I wanted to do. And then at the end of the year or the semester, I would just bring it out and be like, here’s all my work, here is my journey, here is what I did.”

Personal projects allow our learners in grades 10 to 12 to delve into and explore topics they are interested in and tailor their own learning in a way that is personally meaningful to them.

The learners choose their personal projects each semester or year. They each decide on the topic, the approach and the angle they want to pursue. If they want, they can use their projects to bring in and express other aspects of their learning in new ways and to make and integrate connections across subject areas.

How learners track and document the learning that takes place as they work on their projects is also up to them. They might sew an outfit or create a video. They might write and record a song. They might design a map, write a novella or series of essays, or document and express their learning in any way they wish.

For example, in grade 10, Amelia developed a digital slideshow about birds. In grade 11, she drew heavily on her philosophy and film courses to explore those subject areas and analyze the 1998 Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show. And as noted above, in grade 12, she took voice lessons, participated in a festival, and documented her progress as a singer.

“There was a curriculum behind it,” she says, “but it was something that I could really flourish in because it was something I wanted to do and was really interested in. It really just felt like something that I could do however I wanted to and however fast or slow I wanted to do it. I think it really inspired me to learn more.”

And at the end of each semester or year, depending on the complexity of the project in question, each learner adds their project to their online learning portfolio, where their learning consultant provides feedback and maps the learning to the BC Ministry of Education and Child Care curriculum.

The learner also presents their completed project at our Learner Project Showcase, much-anticipated events in grades 10 to 12 that are scheduled seasonally and allow learners to share their learning with their peers and educators, and inspire each other.

“Don’t be afraid to dive into something you really love,” Amelia advises other SelfDesign learners. “Don’t feel like you have to stop yourself or hold back or be something else because being whoever you are is perfect and it’s the right way to be. Obviously you can’t NOT do your work, but if you do it in a way that makes you passionate and really fulfils your life goals or your career ideas, then that’s doing it the best way. Just follow your bliss. That will lead you to the right path.”


What’s next for Amelia?

Now that she’s finished her SelfDesign journey, Amelia is looking into learning more about all aspects of the performing arts.

“I am super dedicated to the arts and all things creative and expressive — just seeing the world through a creative lens, I guess,” she says. “My personal favourite creative media are theatre and singing and acting and live stage performances. I would love to dive into that world. That’s what I’m currently going to pursue in the next few years – lots of performing arts – and see where it takes me.”

Amelia fell in love with live theatre when she was about 12 years old when she joined a musical theatre program.

“I fell in love with it… I got a small talking role, and we sang and danced and did this fun little student-written show,” she says. “And I remember on closing night feeling like, ‘Wow, this is such a cool world. I just want to do this. I just love doing this!’ I started pursuing it more actively and actually thinking of it as the way I want to go for my career about a year or two ago.”

She’s acted in family and community theatre productions around Victoria. Now that she’s finished SelfDesign with her Dogwood Diploma, she’s taking a gap year. She’s using the time to build her skills and explore post-secondary options that will allow her to explore all aspects of theatre and performing arts.

“When you go into getting a degree in musical theatre, for example, you won’t be taking just musical theatre — you’ll be taking musical theatre on top of set design and props and costumes or lighting or sets… anything,” she says “They say if you want to get into this industry, you can’t be just a performer. If you want to pursue it as a career, you need to be multifaceted with a bunch of different skills. I would love to get into that in my post-secondary endeavours. I would love to learn all about theatre — all of the different aspects and levels — I’d love to do all of it!”

Read about our Class of 2022

Learn more about paths to graduation at SelfDesign

Read about some of our other learners’ SelfDesign journeys

Learn more about how SelfDesign supports our learners in applying for scholarships

Find out why so many of our grade 10 to 12 learners do so well