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Blue Gum Community School


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Blue Gum Community School (Blue Gum) is a small community-based, secular independent school offering education programs for 0-16-year-olds. Opened in 1998 and located in Canberra, Australia, Blue Gum is ‘Australian-made’ and named after a robust Australian native eucalypt tree. Our school values our Australian context, environment, and inheritance, but connects globally with and learning from educators in other cultures. Blue Gum adopts a personalized, strengths-based approach to education, where every student can be successful. Our smallness is our strength – students’ interests and passions contribute to their learning community’s exploration of unlimited research possibilities. Important philosophical reference points are Project-Based Learning, the Reggio Emilia experience, Big Picture Education, Slow Schooling, Nature Education, Place-Based Education, Positive Psychology, etc.

The learning environment and the curriculum are inseparable. The thoughtful and intentional organization of the learning environment is vital for the implementation of the curriculum. Inspiring, functional, aesthetically-pleasing environments empower students to explore, be curious, investigate, strengthen relationships, and make meaning of their world. The classroom environment is de-institutionalized to provide welcoming, beautiful spaces, segmented into areas that cater to noisy engagement or quiet contemplation individual endeavors, small group workshops or whole Class meetings indoor or outdoor investigations, etc. Students actively contribute to the aesthetics, arrangement of spaces, documentation, and planning, thereby gaining a sense of ownership over their environment and learning.

Blue Gum Community School is a ‘real world’ learning environment designed to be a microcosm of, and an access point to the broader community. Students of all ages are active participants in, and citizens of the real world are instinctive researchers of the world around them, seeking knowledge and skills. Students and educators work together as co-researchers investigating/exploring/theorizing to make meaning. New forms of expression are often needed, so the arts offer a rich source of creative ‘tools’ and different ‘languages,’ through which to think ‘outside the box,’ explore ideas, and then communicate their findings and responses.

Students learn that their identity is bound up in their community and the part they play in it. To be mutually beneficial, this relationship requires deep respect and active listening. Community is founded on relationships, which invariably have high points and low points. As part of living in the real world, students will experience conflicts, disagreements, and annoying people in everyday life – they need to learn and practice strategies for handling these situations constructively. In the process, they discover the powerful learning that emerges when collaborating with many different ‘others.’

Blue Gum is a secular school where individual families’ beliefs and values are supported, if possible, and consistent with the school’s philosophy. However, one set of religious/spiritual beliefs is not valued more highly than another. The school has a passionate commitment to social justice, e.g., issues around the four fundamental principles of equity, access, equality, and participation. Ethical issues frequently arise, offering students a myriad of opportunities for robust debate and meaningful learning.

Our classrooms are usually a hive of activity, as students work through a variety of learning possibilities. They have a strong sense of ownership over their learning. They can negotiate the direction it takes, frequently taking the initiative to seek resources, discuss theories, collaborate with peers, and investigate real-life issues. However, a balance is always maintained between student initiatives and teacher-instigated explorations, research, and workshops (e.g., targeting core skills).

Outdoor education is an integral part of the core learning and compulsory for every student, not merely an ‘elective.’ Taking students into challenging situations requires them to appreciate their vulnerability and the need to work/communicate effectively within a group to problem-solve, learn risk management skills, and rely on one another. Blue Gum students spend large chunks of time outdoors, exploring and engaging in the natural world. This may mean climbing boulders and trees, sliding down dirt hills, experimenting with and in water, and using sticks as tools to extract maximum learning from ‘hands-on’ investigations. The importance of regular contact with the natural world is now well-documented.

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