Keisa Milner, left, acts as a bank teller and bookkeeper as Aspen Heights Elementary School students line up to make a withdrawal from their accounts Thursday afternoon. After an assembly where the school was awarded a national school award the school held a market day where students can buy and sell products from other students. (Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

Red Deer school a national leader in innovation

Chosen from 102 schools across Canada

Canadian Education Association can’t say enough about Aspen Heights Elementary School’s MicroSociety program.

In early April, the K-5 school received the non-profit association’s Ken Spencer Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

On Thursday CEA president and CEO Ron Canuel said in the six years he’s given out the national award, Aspen Heights MicroSociety was unequivocally the best he’s ever seen.

“Instead of just being a part of a project in a school — it is the school, and I think that’s one of the big separators I can say from past winners. You can see this is an entire school initiative happening,” said Canuel, who presented the award at a student assembly on Thursday.

A MicroSociety connects students to the real world by allowing them to create their own miniature country that comes complete with elected government, entrepreneurial hub, non-profit organizations, marketplace, courts, police, post-secondary institutions and gathering places.

The school’s MicroSociety has operated for nine years and Canuel said visitors can sense there’s something different about the school. The students have a level of self confidence and a strong sense of pride in being part of Aspen Heights.

“When you look at them and talk to them, what strikes me is they’re all looking at you in the eye.”

The award is to recognize and publicize innovative work that is sustainable and can inspire other schools to do the same.

“There is still a number of systemic challenges, one being dropouts, that continue to be really a thorn in the side of many, many institutions. We try to promote them to think differently. This is a great example of thinking differently and being successful,” Canuel said.

Allan Baile, MicroSociety program co-ordinator and Grade 4 and 5 teacher, said MicroSociety is embedded into the entire school and shows students what they are capable of doing.

“They take what their teachers are teaching them in class and then they go and apply it in their MicroSociety jobs. They see there’s a relevance to what they’re doing,” Baile said.

Baile, who taught at the school prior to the MicroSociety, said students now talk about all the things they want to accomplish, like going to college or becoming entrepreneurs.

“They want to be something more than what they ever thought they could be. The jobs that they’re thinking about are professional jobs.”

MicroSociety is funded by community partners and the $7,000 prize with the award will be used for new equipment and supplies for businesses students operate, he said.

Aspen Heights, a Red Deer Public School, has also been named a finalist in the education category for the 26th annual Emerald Awards, which will be presented on June 6.

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