It's not often a person gets to meet a horse for the first time and visit Edmonton's new downtown arena all in one day, but that's exactly what happened recently for a class of Grade 2 students from Brightview School.
For about an hour on Nov. 2, about 24 students from the west-end school visited the ICE School classroom at the new Rogers Place arena, then headed to the loading dock to meet Trifon, an Arabian horse with an unusual interest in books and magazines.
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Meeting Trifon was part of the Arabian Horse Reading Literacy Project, created by former teacher Gary Millar. He told the class that he discovered by accident that Trifon liked to read magazines over his shoulder. After borrowing his neighbour's kids for an experiment, Millar then discovered that kids also like to read to Trifon. Since that discovery 10 years ago, Millar and Trifon have been visiting schools throughout the Edmonton area.
Millar's program has two parts. First, he brings Trifon to a school, where students meet him for the first time, get a book of their own and a poster of Trifon for their classroom. They are instructed to practise reading to the poster. Then, months later, the students visit Millar's farm, where they participate in activity centres and read to horses that are posted at each station.
Millar says the experience regularly brings wide-eyed wonder and excitement in the children. Their fascination and connection with the horse, and the fact that this experience also involves reading, fosters an interest in reading.
"A lot of Grade 1 teachers like to use our program to get their new kids engaged and motivated to learn," he said.
Teacher Erin Whelen said her students were indeed very excited about this meeting.
"Lots of our kids have never had an opportunity to see a horse in real life," she said. "To have this opportunity to meet the horse here is so exciting for them."
The class will visit Millar's farm sometime next year.
Meeting the horse for the first time at Rogers Place rather than at Brightview School was the idea of Diane Gurnham, a teacher who is the program co-ordinator for ICE School.
ICE School (ICE stands for In Class Education) operated for 14 years at Rexall Place and is now getting set to begin operation at Rogers Place, which opened in September. The program enables a class to spend five days at the site, engaged in hands-on learning that includes discovering the behind-the-scenes intricacies involved in hosting Edmonton Oilers hockey games and other large events at Rogers Place.
The program also endeavours to enable students to discover the city's history and beauty.
With Rogers Place having just opened, ICE School won't officially open until December. Whelen's class was the first to visit the classroom as a special sneak preview that Gurnham suggested. The class is scheduled to attend for a week in May.
When it operated at Rexall Place, the ICE School program naturally included interaction with horses, due to the close proximity of the Northlands racetrack, Gurnham said. Now that the program is located in downtown Edmonton, Gurnham is reconfiguring it.
"We're still trying to get to know the building and build the program," she said. "It's the same program but we have to build brand new planning because we're in a brand new situation."
ICE School is one of several sites that belong to the Inquiring Minds program, which involves students spending a week at a site like a museum, fire hall, civic venue or nature preserve, engaging in learner-led, hands-on, inquiry-based learning and exploration through tours, journaling and a host of creative activities.
According to the Inquiring Minds website, this immersive learning model began in Calgary in the 1990s and has since grown into an international movement from Newfoundland to Singapore.