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Glarea, set to open this fall, is a school to watch

A new initiative in Surrey, BC, is recasting how we think of school. It's safe to say that you haven't seen anything like it.

by Glen Herbert


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“It’s been 7 years in the making, arguably a lifetime” reflects Nadia Irshād, one of the founders who has been instrumental in bringing the idea of Glarea Elevated Learning to life. That idea was to offer students a uniquely immersive academic experience, one that would contribute to their understanding of themselves as learners and build the postures and behaviors for their success.

With construction all but completed on phase one, the school is positioned to realize the concept, in turn becoming a distinct and inherently visible institution within the Canadian education market. The rinks are perhaps the most obvious feature from the street: housed in the home of Excellent Ice, a focal point of the community for more than three decades, the school looks like a sports facility, which it was and, in many respects, will remain. The ice rinks—there are three full-size sheets—will be a key feature of the life of the school, from daily recreational skating to competitive hockey. But the space brings a symbolic history as well, one synonymous with resilience, cooperation, and achievement. That, too, will remain, as hinted by the name: Glarea is the Latin word for “grit.”


“It looks different than any other school I’ve been to,” agrees Principal Dr. NataŠa Sirotić, which is part of the charm of the concept. All schools, to some extent, defy the various stereotypes that the general population might have about private education, though Glarea is a particularly stark example of that. There are no ivy-covered walls, the hallways are wider, the entrance more fluid and casually inviting. Activity is foregrounded by the design and orientation of the instructional spaces: students step out of a classroom and onto the ice rink; on the way to math class, they’ll pass martial arts and dance studios.

Those things provide evidence of the ethos of the school. It’s about engagement, living, and learning within an environment that, says Irshād, maximizes students’ experiences, whether it be through arts, tech immersion, or sports. It’s intentionally designed to bring ideas, activities, and people closer togetherthere is even a residency program that brings area professionals into the school as mentorsallowing opportunities for students to follow existing interests just as easily as they find new ones. The term “elevated learning” is meant to underscore the sense of the school, says Irshād, as a place where “their passion and their purpose becomes easier to identify.”


The academic delivery continues the theme. Instructional spaces are larger than you’d find in a more typical academic setting, and also perhaps the first truly VR learning spaces in the country. When sessions begin in the fall, giant screens will allow students to conference in, interacting in real time with the students in the classroom. Teachers will be on mic, with an array of teaching tools close at hand, from traditional to technological. This in part because of the distancing protocols that we can expect to be in place for the remainder of this calendar year—Sirotić rightly notes that, while we hope there won’t be a second or third wave of the COVID pandemic, it’s nevertheless a good idea to be prepared to meet it if it does—but also in an awareness of the benefits that some aspects of remote learning can bring.

“There is an emphasis on multi-disciplinary synthesis,” says Sirotić, and cross-disciplinary instruction. Yes, the core competencies come first, and she is clear that the provincial curriculum provides the basis for all instruction, as of course it should. But she’s equally clear that those competencies are a point of departure, the baseline not the goal. Once mastered, they will be brought to bear on real-world tasks and problems, challenging students to apply skills, knowledge, personal interests, and investigative behaviours in collaborative and creative ways.

" ... this is how success is built ... "

“What it really comes down to is a child's ability to approach every problem,” says Irshād, from isolating first principles, to gaining multiple perspectives, to acting on what they’ve learned. “Failure is a strong term, but falling short, or not completing a particular problem—or not finding a solution the first time—that's not a bad thing. That's a part of the process … this is how success is built.”   

Administrators are clearly excited with what they are going to be able to offer, as well they should be. “This is going to give them a way to know their own strengths,” says Sirotić. “They will know how to ask the questions that matter, and work to find the solutions … the skill set will be there, but more importantly, the mindset will be there, one of lifelong learning, of being curious, of being empowered to know that there is no problem that we cannot solve.”

They’re also aware that, given the unique positioning of the school within the mosaic of academic offerings in the region, the school needs to be seen in person, first hand. Sirotić is right when she says that Glarea is unlike any other school. From the classrooms to the curriculum, it comprises an answer to a deceptively simple question: What do students need most? While it can be difficult to know what their professional lives might look like, it’s nevertheless clear that students will be required to work collaboratively; to engage effectively within both virtual and in-person settings; to think creatively, and to communicate their ideas effectively to others through a range of media; and to live active, healthy lives. They’ll also need, as we all do, to find joy in their lives, and to become aware of the pleasures, as physicist Richard Feynman once quipped, of simply finding things out about their world, their communities, and themselves. Glarea is positioned to become an important model in how to deliver all of those things and more in creative, active, uniquely engaging ways.

While group tours aren’t safe in the current context, private tours are available now. They’re also highly recommended. For more information or to book a tour, click here.

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