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June 07, 2022

Partnerships and silo-busting for more inclusive public education

by Ted Fransen, Superintendent, Pembina Trails SD & Vice Chair, The Learning Partnership
I had the privilege of attending the AP Canada Forum on campus at the University of British Columbia in beautiful Vancouver on May 19th and 20th. While the setting was idyllic, the return to in-person conferencing, student-centred topics, and networking with educational leaders and practitioners from across Canada are the reasons the conference was a success.

AP Canada began an annual forum in 2019 and quickly discovered that the best laid plans sometimes lead to online meetings and conferencing. This is only one of many so-called “COVID-19 effects”. The in-person conference at UBC was their second annual in-person conference since the inaugural one.
Ted is shown in front of the University of British Columbia sign

I was very familiar with AP Canada (Advanced Placement Canada) and The College Board from my day job, a role that I will be leaving this summer following a richly satisfying 40-year adventure in education. I brought that knowledge and lens to the conference on behalf of The Learning Partnership. AP credits earned by high school students serve a dual purpose. They count as credits towards a high school diploma as well as a first-year university credit in most universities and colleges in Canada and the United States. There are significant academic and financial benefits to students who successfully complete AP credits while in high school.

As an organization, The Learning Partnership takes a stance of curiosity, support, and – true to its name –nurturing partnerships that support our goal of increasing the proportion of underserved students who can take advantage of The Learning Partnership's inclusive innovation education programs.

A silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic for TLP was that remote learning, supported by digital technologies and platforms, was a powerful ally for its programs. TLP pivoted quickly, launching an all-virtual Take Our Kids to Work (TOKW) Day in November 2020 and going virtual in spring 2021 with the inaugural annual National Invention Convention – the culminating event of TLP’s cornerstone invention education program, Investigate! Invent! Innovate! (I3). You can read about those successes in our impact report.
Slide of UBC College Board Canada Forum about building equitable and future ready AP programs is shown

It was immediately evident to the forum participants that AP Canada is on a journey of transformation. It is moving from an organization that has been seen as elite and exclusive, where more is given to those who have much, to becoming an organization that values inclusion, accessibility, and appealing to underserved students to the same degree they do those of privilege. I was impressed with the sincerity of the forum participants to take this path towards greater inclusivity and access for more students.

The speakers shared stories about increasing access to Indigenous learners and reducing and eventually eliminating the concept of honours tracking on route to AP credits in the final year of high school. The AP Canada Capstone program is a great example, where seminar and research are the focus of the program and where – gasp! – there is no final exam. Assessment is authentic and directly connected to the seminar and research work completed by the student. I was impressed. I had to do a double-take at times! This has not been my experience with the AP approach. For many in the education realm, AP courses are something elusive and reserved only for the few.

It was heart-warming and gratifying to observe this transformation. Public education, at its core, is a place for all students to thrive and learn. As AP Canada moves from behind the curtain of exclusivity and into plain sight and access for all students, students in our public high schools are certain to benefit from the excellence and rigour that AP courses provide.  
College Board display is shown with the text saying clearing a path for all students to own their future

Other likeminded organizations that want to partner with schools and AP Canada also participated in the conference. Leaders from Outward Bound, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), Taking ITGlobal, and the Canadian Wildlife Association joined TLP in pursuing partnership with school districts in the service of students and their learning. We were joined by a major funder of The Learning Partnership, RBC Future Launch.

The future of public education is bright when we knock down silos. Partnerships are the backbone of creative and innovative solutions to breaking free from the status quo. I applaud organizations who are ready to roll up their sleeves and reach out to others in creating alliances. No single organization can do it all alone. Our differences make us stronger. We made full use of our time together to network and plant seeds of possibilities to work collaboratively, as partners or within strategic alliances, to benefit students across Canada.

The Learning Partnership is known for innovation. When you see the evolution of Take Our Kids to Work, I3, Welcome to Kindergarten, and Coding Quest, it becomes evident that TLP has allowed the creative juices to flow to fill a niche at a time when educators are looking for programs to augment the great things already happening in their classrooms.

Experiential learning has significant benefits for students at all levels. To take TOKW as an example, whetting the appetite of students for the future world of work by creating a true partnership between students, schools and workplaces – with an up close and personal connection with employers and employees of those workplaces – has earned appreciation across Canada.

Take Our Kids to Work and the National Invention Convention have served as excellent role models for other partnerships which The Learning Partnership is bringing to fruition. They have also sparked ideas about new collaborations that bring unique perspectives together in the service of big, bold ideas. An example that occurred to me as I listened and learned from my fellow attendees is how The Learning Partnership is well-positioned to help educators, students and workplaces across Canada navigate their growing appetite for Indigenous-centred, land-based education with a focus on sustainability.

The future is bright as we explore these and other opportunities and partnerships that see collaboration, innovation, and inclusion as the key to unlocking student potential.
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