Campers have fun on the lake at Khalsa Centre in Miracle Valley.

New school focuses on the outdoors

Students of all faiths welcomes at Sikh private school

Children will be encouraged to yell as loud as they want, get messy, and play outside at a new private school scheduled to open in Mission in September.

It will be a school focussed on the outdoors in Mission for students in Kindergarten to Grade 7.

Operated by the Satnam Education Society of B.C., the Mission campus would be the group’s fifth site. There are already four Khalsa schools established in Surrey and a pre-school/daycare in Abbotsford, which is expected to be a feeder school for Mission.

The Khalsa Centre has been running camps for children and adults of all ages since it purchased the former Paetzold Centre from the Salvation Army in Miracle Valley, east of Mission in 2011.

“We’ve given the property a lot of TLC,” said Sundeep Kaur Dhaliwal, a director with Khalsa School who has been running camps in B.C. for more than 22 years.

On the outside many of the structures and building names remain unchanged from when the Salvation Army operated an addiction treatment facility for men, but on the inside, walls have been patched and painted, and desks and chairs have been moved in to create a classroom setting for students. All the locks on dorm room doors have also been removed.

About 85 acres of the 160 acres have been turned into an organic blueberry farm, and activity areas, such as an archery wall, rock wall, paintball course, and zip lines, have been added. There is also a high rope course and a low rope course, trails and camping areas.

Campers are expected to work together, develop a strong sense of personal identity, and treat everyone with respect. Students at the new school will be expected to do the same.

The camps only run when schools are not in session, and instead of having Mission property sit empty, Dhaliwal, who works as a lawyer when she’s not volunteering with the society, looked into creating a unique school.

While the school is a Sikh private school, students of all faiths can be admitted, said Dhaliwal, noting Khalsa schools have an intense academic curriculum and place strong emphasis on physical activity and arts and culture.

“We follow the established B.C. curriculum.”

School days, however, are a little longer in order to fit in a morning prayer session and a Punjabi language class and a traditional music class for everyone.

“Punjabi is one of the fastest growing languages in Mission,” said Dhaliwal, noting about 14 per cent of students that learn Punjabi in Surrey are not of Sikh heritage. “It’s an asset.”

By the time Khalsa school students are finished Grade 7, they should be in a position to challenge the Grade 12 provincial exam for Punjabi.

Dhaliwal can’t help but get a little excited when she imagines up to 100 children running around on the property and learning their lessons in an outdoor environment.

On the high ropes course, students can study physics by discussing angles of ropes and how much give is available, and on the low ropes course, they can learn team building skills and pick up cultural lessons, she explained.

“They can learn social studies by doing it. We can visit the First Nations next door.”

Agricultural lessons will be taught in the blueberry field or apple orchard and students can study fish and tadpoles in science class at the small lake on site.

“The kids can talk and yell as loud as they want. They can get excited and be comfortable with who they are.”

Some classes, such as music and computer science, will have to be taught indoors, but the goal is to spend at least 50 per cent of the school day outside, said Dhaliwal, who encourages kids to get to know the outdoors and learn by getting dirt on their hands.

The classrooms will be small, with a maximum of 15 students in each one and school days run from 8:10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

All students will be bussed in and have uniforms. There will also be a free tutoring program available after school for students who need extra help or want to get ahead.

About a dozen students have already registered to attend the school in September and 11 staff members have already been hired.

For more information about the Khalsa school, visit khalsaschool.ca.