BJM Health & Sciences Academy’s successful evolution is a win-win situation for all involved

February 12, 2020

Ethan Cook and classmate Jessica Grasby enjoy the motivational, hands-on atmosphere that has come to typify the evergrowing Health & Sciences Academy at Bishop James Mahoney High School.

Since it became a reality four years ago, the Health & Sciences Academy at Bishop James Mahoney High School in Saskatoon continues to enjoy success with 160 students enrolled in this groundbreaking venture.

As the head of the Academy, Andrea Regier has been vigilant in the establishment and expansion of joint partnerships. That was readily evident from the recent signing of the memorandums of understanding at the school by representatives from the College of Arts & Science at the University of Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s School of Health Sciences. This will give students a head start on their post-secondary aspirations by offering post-secondary courses as part of the program.

Greg Chatlain, director of education for Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, praised the commitment of those involved with the academy, noting that “we committed to trying something different and through their efforts we have seen what was an idea come to fruition. Originally this might have been a bit of a leap of faith, but by bringing together community partners we have been able to give great opportunities for our students.”

Regier referred to the four years as having been a journey with twists and turns along the way.

“For so long education has been compartmentalized, but with this academy it allows us to build bridges with the community and we have been able to tap into so many wonderful resources. It’s been amazing to have been part of the process. This is a very important step for us and our students,” she added.

As she looked back on the origins of the academy, Regier readily acknowledged it was originally hard to anticipate what might transpire since there was no Canadian model anywhere else to follow. She underscored that this is an example of how the academy has its focus on academics as opposed to the more common examples of sports academies.

Regier shared how impressed she has been by how the Canadian Light Source, the Meewasin Valley Authority and the Saskatchewan Aviation Museum and Learning Centre, for example, have been ardent supporters of the program.

“There have been so many examples from the business and professional community in Saskatoon where they have always been willing to come to the school to teach and for our students to have all sorts of field trip opportunities. It makes the learning so much more relevant. I’ve personally seen students exchanging contact information with scientists. It might have been something they [students] didn’t know about before, but it’s an example of how it has expanded their horizons and has added to their diversity,” she added.

Emphasizing hands-on learning, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication as the cornerstones, the academy has attracted students to apply from across the city as well as neighbouring communities like Martensville and Borden.

Jessica Grasby is a Grade 12 student who makes the daily commute from Martensville to be part of this program. Apart from having the opportunity to gain the aforementioned post-secondary credits, she said attending the academy has been invaluable in terms of helping her feel more prepared for her future.

“You have the chance to learn so much here and it’s applied in a super fun way. With the field trips and all the experiences we have, I feel like you learn that much better; you’re just that much more focused and you can form some great relationships,” she said.

Fellow classmate, Ethan Cook, echoed those sentiments emphasizing how he finds this more motivating than in the mainstream classroom.

“The teachers are really good and they are here to help you. They will always stay after class if you need to figure out a particular problem. You see how hard they work and you want to work just as hard. Plus, you’re around other students who are here to learn and work hard so it’s a great setting to be in. It gives you a chance to dive deeper into what you’re working on and I love it,” he said.

If that’s an example of how motivated the students are, it is reciprocal. Just listen to Dan Toogood, one of 11 teachers in the academy, who is in his first year teaching in the program after having gained his master’s degree
in protein biochemistry at the U of S.

“It’s remarkable to be part of this. I was super impressed right off the hop,” he said, once his application had been accepted. “It took a little while to gauge what the students could do, but it’s remarkable what they are capable of and they just have this ability and will to nail it. The critical thinking capacity they have is just amazing.

“I can say in terms of personal development for me, I’m very grateful for the opportunity and it’s revived my teaching career,” said the 10-year classroom teacher.

In his remarks, Chatlain said while there are those out there who might think education is not changing quickly enough to adapt to the future needs of students, “I would beg to differ and this is a great example of that adapting to a changing world. Thanks to the dedication and courage of people like Andrea [Regier] and the staff, we have a good signpost in the ground.”

BJM Principal Kim Pasloski spoke of his excitement for the future in terms of where the program will go, noting that “it’s been a group effort and even if we were taking a bit of a risk, that’s when awesome things happen.”

Regier noted that while always open to new ideas, she remains adamant that the key factor will always be about providing these sorts of opportunities for students to expand their personal horizons. “You can see the engagement and excitement that the students feel and that’s contagious for teachers and researchers and everyone involved.”