Headwaters Academy: An Outdoor-Centric Approach To Education

Perched on the west side of the Beaver Valley outside Thornbury lies Kimbercote Farm, a 110-acre property flanked by two rivers and home to a flagship barn lovingly painted with the namesake. Teeming with life and now known as the Kimbercote Experiential Education Centre, the property is gaining a new life through established local charity Elephant Thoughts, and Headwaters Academy, a new JK-8 school.


Words and photo: Nelson Phillips

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Next to the Bruce Trail and occupying the former caretaker’s residence, Headwaters Academy is no ordinary school. It’s a place that aims to engage its students with exceptional outdoor, environmental—and perhaps most uniquely— entrepreneurial education, adapting its own projectbased curriculum geared at mastering the Ontario curriculum. The program also meets and exceeds the Alberta standards, as well as the Common Core State Standards in language arts and math.

Two full scholarships for students entering grades 1-6 are available each year, and will be renewable for up to three years. The Elephant Thoughts Educational Outreach will assist in the selection of candidates. “One of our most critical assets is our site,” says Mark Brown, Principal of Headwaters Academy. “We wanted to find a location that was suitable for kids to be outside and have a connection with nature.” Kids have daily outdoor education here, and every Thursday is Trailblazer Day, when students may find themselves down at the river exploring the ecology of the area, or at the Keady Market learning about agricultural processes, marketing, and business.

The facility is a two-room, multi-age schoolhouse that is purposeful in their approach of grouping their students. Simply put, no two children are alike, and in realizing this, the school doesn’t lump them together according to age, but rather their individual progress.

“Kids grow in different ways”, Brown adds. “We’ve put multi-age streams together, so a 9-year-old
who would be in grade 4 could be reading at a grade 3 level—but his or her math skills may be at
grade 6. We’ve taken the curriculum and reworked it horizontally, so that kids can have flexibility to
succeed wherever their level currently is.” Teacher/student ratio will never be more than 1/10, and the
facility should open this year at a ratio of about 1/8.

We’ve taken the curriculum and reworked it horizontally, so that kids can have flexibility to succeed wherever their level currently is.

Further, the students will benefit from weekly online report cards that give parents consistent updates.
“There are additional integral programs designed to emphasize social and emotional growth, technology
and engineering, literature, global leadership, and innovation,” explains Headwaters’ Curriculum and
School Leadership Consultant Barb Smith, who has developed curriculums in International Schools and
served as Vice Principal at Sterling Hall School in Toronto, and as Principal at the William E. Doar, Jr.
Performing Arts School in Washington, DC.

Local educator, musician and artist Fran Bouwman, who will be a teacher at Headwaters, says the response to the school’s recent open house was massive. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised. It’s  very rural location and sometimes you just don’t know. It’s been really amazing to see this vision coming to life. We got to see children interacting with this space [for the first time]. When you’re just at the beginning of trying to open a school there are a lot of logistics, so you can get really swallowed up—but to see that this is going to be a fantastic place of learning is incredibly special.”