For many schools, a decision to close marks the end of their story, but for New Humble the story was just getting started.

On April 22, 2020, the Black Gold School Division board voted to close the 120-year-old New Humble Centre School at the end of the school year. New Humble school is a rural elementary school located in Leduc County, south of Calmar.

With the board’s decision, the parents’ group that formed to fight the school’s closure changed course and began pursuing a new idea – a public charter school at New Humble. Public charter schools are non-profit public schools funded by the government that follow Alberta’s curriculum while providing education in an enhanced manner—beyond the services provided by the existing local school board. Public charter schools may not charge tuition fees, but they may charge students fees and costs allowed under the Education Act.

By July 2020, the group’s preliminary application for a charter school was accepted and in September 2020 their final application was approved, making New Humble Community School the first new charter school in Alberta in 13 years.

In September 2021, New Humble Community School opened to students.

“We teach the standard Alberta curriculum but just in an innovative way,” explained Kelsey Huber, New Humble Community School Association board director.

“We have focused our educational lens through agriculture and environmental stewardship. We go beyond the four walls of the classroom and it’s very hands on, experiential learning.”

Agriculture, the environment and stewardship

At New Humble, agriculture and the environment are more than just modules to learn; ag and environmental stewardship are an integral part of all learning. Students learn about the impact people and their activities have on the environment, and all teachings are grade-level appropriate. They take part in hands-on projects, including checking the school weather station, working in the garden, working with goats and chickens, and learning in the outdoor classroom.

“We mesh (the Alberta curriculum) with our ag and environmental studies. That can be things like learning math by figuring out how much feed the pigs need or the goats need, doing measurements that way. It is also learning things like temperature taking – it is more than just about what’s on a sheet – you know you go outside, you do the experiments, translate it that way. It’s very hands on and experiential.”

At New Humble Community School, it is through the lens of agriculture, stewardship, and experiential learning that we will provide a unique, vibrant, and successful foundation of education. Elementary learners who will achieve a comprehensive and interconnected understanding of land management, environment, and sustainability. Students will grow a strong foundation of compassionate stewardship and the continual pursuit of excellence, which they will carry with them as they become responsible and successful members of society.

New Humble Community School website

One example of hands-on learning in action is New Humble’s broiler chicken project, where students raised chicks up until their processing date. While avian flu outbreaks in the province meant the students couldn’t be as involved as intended due to enhanced bio-security measures, students remained very hands on throughout the project.

From a business learning perspective, Huber explained that Grade 5/6 students had to apply to be project managers for the broiler chicken project. Once they applied, each student created a resume, took part in an interview and then had to accept the unpaid position. Once in place, the project managers took on added duties.

“The project managers were responsible for loading the birds, taking them – with parental permission – to be butchered,” said Huber. “So, they saw the full cycle of the broiler side.”

The school also had laying hens, potbelly pigs and Nigerian goats during its first year of operation. The hens, broiler chickens, pigs and goat projects all returned for the 2022-2023 school year.

This fall, a flock of ducks joined the school. Construction is underway to build a barn, which will allow for further expansion in the range of livestock at the school. Huber said the school’s volunteer base and the larger community have been “so amazing in helping to achieve this goal.”

Additionally, students have the chance to get to know others outside of their class or grade.

“We also offer our students cross-grade opportunities,” said Huber. “We’ll have school-wide learning days where groups of students are formed across all grades, and they spend an afternoon going through different stations.

“This gets them out of their single cohort of that one grade. It establishes a broader sense of community among our students.”

Successful first year

The proof of New Humble Community School’s success is in its numbers. When it closed in 2020, there were 56 students enrolled. In 2021-2022, there were over 85 students enrolled in the school, with a wait list for the 2022-2023 school year.

“It is very promising,” said Huber. “We did not expect there to be a wait list so soon, but it is definitely a wonderful affirmation that other parents, other community members see the value in this programming like we do.

“We have, in our first year, as with anything, had some struggles. You have to work out those bumps. We have gone from very within-the-box thinking and our teachers are breaking those parameters.

“They are expanding and being very innovative with their teaching styles, which is exactly what a charter school is supposed to do. We do see that the kids are reacting positively. We see a benefit to the children being able to get hands on and really involved in their learning apart from the worksheets and booklet work.”

Through the use of hands-on or kinesthetic learning, we believe that each and every student’s learning experience will be enhanced. Simply stated, the goal is to have all student’s achievement increase with the support and implementation of “learning by doing”. Not only will we capture the students that find it challenging to learn well in a typical environment, but it will support and improve all the students.

New Humble Community School website

“The process we have gone through has not been easy by any means; however, we have had an extremely dedicated group of parents who have pursued this objective,” explained Huber.

“We also have had a phenomenal community, not just direct community, but external as well, that has been extremely supportive and that has been huge in our success thus far.”