Nelson McIntyre Collegiate is developing a new approach to school that will take Grade 9 students to The Forks for real-life experiences in the fall.

First-Hand Exploration at The Forks is inspired by the School of Environmental Studies in Minnesota. 

Educators from the Louis Riel School Division travelled across the border to the U.S. school to see how it works.

Some of the students at the U.S. school are responsible for monitoring the health of the 20 lakes in the district, said Charlene Smallwood, vice-principal of Nelson McIntyre Collegiate.

"They take it quite seriously and they have to get it right," she said.

The students learn the science of monitoring the health of lakes, go out and take water samples, analyze the water, write technical reports and report to city officials.

School of Environmental Studies

The school at The Forks is inspired by the School of Environmental Studies in Minnesota. (Charlene Smallwood/Nelson McIntyre Collegiate)

"Because of that, it elevates the quality of their work," said Smallwood. "They take it quite seriously because it has impact."

Real-life deadlines, audiences and products are the focus of the Winnipeg school's new program. 

"Using what we've done in the past to teach kids who are in a different reality, it can be boring for them sometimes," said Louis Riel School Division assistant superintendent Irene Nordheim.

Part of the goal of the new approach to learning is to make kids realize that the work they do isn't just for marks, it can be applied to the real world, Nordheim said. 

"[It] doesn't mean that we're not going to be covering what they need to cover," said Nordheim. "It is just a way of making this learning so that they want to learn and that it's relevant to them."

Smallwood said partnering with The Forks, which is a 15-minute walk from the school, was an easy choice.

Winnipeg food truck

Students at Nelson McIntyre Collegiate will take a real-life approach to learning at The Forks. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

"The curricular connections at The Forks are so vast — you think about history, you think about geography, indigenous studies, about the arts, about media, about business — it goes go on and on," she said.

"The more we thought about it, the more we were really excited about how many components we could connect our in-school learning to real-world learning."

The new model is starting with Grade 9 students and the following year it will be available to Grade 10 students too. By the third year, Smallwood said, the school hopes the new model will be implemented in grades 9 to 12.

The details of how much time students will spend at The Forks and the kinds of projects they will work on are still being developed. The students will also spend time in the classroom for traditional learning, Smallwood said.

Nelson McIntyre is holding an open house for First-Hand Exploration at The Forks at the collegiate on Thursday at 7 p.m.