(This is the latest in a series of profiles about people in Stittsville who are making a difference in our community and beyond. If you have a suggestion for someone we should interview, please contact us.)

In a year of uncertainty, consistently creating a safe place for expression and learning is an arduous task. For school teachers throughout our community, these past 18 months have brought a new frontier in education.

Juggling families of their own, creating virtual classrooms, implementing newer, safer measures to in-class learning, and being able to flip it all on the fly, has been part of their new reality. Oh, and keeping things positive, upbeat, and creative at the same time. Teachers are challenged daily with the task of keeping our young people safe and allowing them to grow emotionally and academically. But they have done it and continue to move ahead with another tumultuous school year upon them.

According to her students, April Soni gets an A+ in meeting this challenge. For Soni, embracing this demand has been a rewarding experience. Soni teaches enriched grades 7 & 8 at Goulbourn Middle School and received the Stittsville Teacher of The Year award for 2021.

“The staff team are really invested, kind-hearted, creative,” says Soni. “This era of learning is a huge adjustment for everyone.”

Soni has adjusted her methods by adopting “out of the box” programming to engage her students. Instead of just the usual robotics, chess and debates clubs, she has incorporated, among other things, environmental stewardship into her classes.

“We relied on field trips in the past for learning authentically,” says Soni. But that had to be adjusted due to the pandemic.

“Instead, we are learning on the micro-level – home, school, community. We are learning about where we are, and we are becoming problem-solvers at this micro-level.”

This approach has lead to the creation of the eco-team, community scientists, and other environmental initiatives.

These lessons have moved the classroom from inside the school to the outdoors, connecting with nature.

“Our eco-team is looking at fundraising for outdoor learning; our community scientists are looking at urban heat mapping, air quality and disruptive weather. They are doing projects where students contribute and analyze data,” says Soni.

They are also looking at local wildlife and plant species.

“Rubber boots are part of our classroom supply,” says Soni. “We even created a fashion show video showcasing our rubber boots.”

“I have also focused on the gamification of the curriculum with things like coding,” says Soni.

At the core of her teaching is creating a space where students can be dynamic, engaging, and their best selves.

“We participate in transformative learning. Students learn how to learn, how to ask important questions,” says Soni.

She says the most profound thing they have done as a class is in environmental stewardship. They have also learned about the inequities that exist in the world and their place within it.

“I am proud of my students. They are super curious people, life learners, and enthusiastic about rigorous learning,” she says. “They want to learn as much as possible, and it is a beautiful thing.”

Not surprisingly, Soni says her inspiration for teaching in these unprecedented times is her students.

“It is like climbing a mountain. These students go above and beyond to learn, and there is a richness in inquiry learning.”

April Soni with a student