Source: Equestrian Canada

A revolutionary school in Langley, BC has transformed to meet the unique needs of its students, providing a tailored academic experience to complement and encourage success in the ring, as well as in the classroom. Now in its second year of operation, the Langley Equestrian Academy’s unique format caters to equestrians in grades 7 to 12.

Langley Equestrian Academy (LEA) Coordinator, Lara Petrie of Langley, BC is a recreational rider herself, in addition to being a lifelong educator. As a District Teacher of Instructional Services, she recognized a need in Langley School District #35 for an alternative education model that would provide students with the time necessary to thoroughly learn material, while simultaneously allowing them to pursue their equestrian dreams.

“As a school district, we’re always looking for ways to help students that have barriers in the system,” explained Petrie. “We realized that in Langley we had a very high number of students that were leaving the school system because they were missing so much school time, or were trying to stay in the system but weren’t quite successful.”

LEA currently operates out of Brookswood Secondary School in Langley, BC, but hopes that their successful model will soon be replicated nationwide. Photo Credit – Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

LEA serves students from across the lower mainland of British Columbia who otherwise might have found it difficult or impossible to balance academic and equestrian pursuits while enrolled in a traditional school system. For competitive athletes, weeks spent away at competitions often placed them behind the curve of their fellow classmates and constantly struggling to catch up.
 
“A lot of these students were incredibly bright academic students, but their marks were not reflecting their academic success because of the artificial dates and timelines that the system was giving them,” said Petrie. “They needed academic flexibility and they needed time for mastery, so we needed a personalized schedule rather than having a traditional classroom setting where people were moving together in a class.”

Petrie noted that students often have to choose between academic or equestrian success, citing ironic anecdotes of athletes who compete at an elite level, yet fail gym classes at their home school. To combat this dichotomy, LEA offers highly customizable schedules, with distance learning options available for traveling students. Most students attend the school’s physical location at Brookswood Secondary School at least three days a week, while some attend each weekday. Some students ride with their personal coaches in the morning and attend school in the afternoon, or vice versa. 

LEA employs four BC certified teachers: a math and sciences specialist, an English and humanities specialist, a resource teacher who assists students with learning disabilities, and a teacher who assists Grades 10-12 with transitional skill blocks such as leadership, scholarship planning, and work experience. In addition to facilitating academic success, it was important to Petrie that good horsemanship was also included as a major focus of LEA’s foundational philosophy.

“We really wanted to put together a program that developed equine knowledge at the same time as students were developing their riding knowledge,” said Petrie. “It was really meant to be an academic wrap-around both on the core side with the courses that students needed for university, and on the side of equine learning.”

To that end, academic teachers and personal riding coaches work alongside equine mentors, who coordinate workshops or seminars based on student needs.

“For the equine mentors, we were looking for people that were heavily focused on student mentorship and youth development, and had diverse skills in the industry,” said Petrie. “The mentors set up about 15-20 different speakers, events, and clinics during the months that students can go to and get some connections with people in the industry, or try to address some of the needs that might be affecting their riding, sport, performance, or mental health.”

Current equine mentors include EC certified coaches, Olympians, show barn managers, and veterinary technicians.

“LEA has endless opportunities for any dedicated and passionate young rider,” commented Lisa Schultz of Surrey, BC, who is an LEA equine mentor and EC Certified Competition Coach. “I believe the equine education and theory that is offered, alongside their school courses, is the perfect recipe for the aspiring young rider wanting to achieve their best in the sport. Also, the variety of optional clinics can cater to each equestrian’s individual needs in all disciplines and levels from beginner to Grand Prix.”

In addition to the academic teachers and equine mentors, LEA’s support team includes a nutritionist and a sport management company. These resources work with students, their parents, and personal riding coaches to develop a cohesive education plan for each student, and help manage the demands of school and competition.

Since its doors opened, Petrie has seen LEA grow in unexpected and exciting ways. For one, there has been a strong interest from international students. Also, Petrie expected there to be a predominance of competitive athletes; however, she is pleasantly surprised at the number of girls in the program who do not ride at all, but are involved in the equine industry in different ways, such as equine management, rescue work, or even Mustang horse training.

Perhaps the most exciting opportunity that has arisen out of LEA is its potential to support the local equestrian community at large.

“Pony Club has approached us, and they are interested in having us be set up as an education centre for the lower mainland because we have so many talks and speakers and people we bring in anyways,” explained Petrie. “It would be really nice if we could open that up to the greater public. Being an education hub is an interesting next evolution for us. We’re finding that things evolve based on needs in the community, and we like to try to be really open and receptive to that.”

Petrie also hopes that school districts in other areas with a high concentration of equestrian athletes will copy LEA’s model.

“It would be really great to have different centres across Canada where we could have sister school locations,” said Petrie. “We have a model that we think is working quite well and would be happy to share that. We have so many amazing students and riders in Canada and it would be nice to support their education here.”

In an effort to respond directly to the needs of the local community, LEA created a replicable and scalable education model that enables and encourages students in all aspects of their lives.

“The advantages are really allowing people to develop their passions without having any academic trade-off,” concluded Petrie. “Supporting passions for students is really important. We have this huge vortex of kids who share this really intense passion in this area, so it’s really cool to have them together as a community.”

For more information on LEA, visit www.facebook.com/LangleyEquestrianAcademy.

Main photo: Shutterstock/Wallenrock

Category: 
International
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