Frog Lake is a Cree Community located about 200 km east of Edmonton. The site of a turbulent and contentious history, including the infamous Frog Lake Massacre, the community now has about 1000 members living on-reserve. The reserve’s school, Frog Lake CNCS School, needed an upgrade that would meet—and even exceed—current 21st Century Learning Standards and that would actively reflect the Nation’s cultural and historical legacy.
The project presented a unique opportunity to define an Indigenous-informed educational program. The CNCS fosters collaboration and critical thinking for its students, offering innovative, intentionally-designed learning environments throughout. The school provides learning environments that inextricably integrate and connect with Cree culture and language and that support the experiences of not only its students, but staff, community members, and stakeholders. The school is accessible to everyone and accommodates the needs and requirements of all students and staff. Intimately connected with the land, the building is exceptional in the scope of its sustainable innovations and “lives lightly upon the earth”.
ROOTED IN CULTURAL SYMBOLISM
Designed as a series of nodes revolving around the central Learning Commons, the design inspiration for the Junior/Senior High School addition stems from the turtle. The turtle in Cree culture is a symbol for Mother Earth that represents the interconnectedness of all things, encompassing the relationship between land and community and the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the world. These key themes informed the radiating design of the functional programme of the school which brings together culture and history through the application of 21st Century Learning design principles into four key zones: senior high school, maker space, junior high school, and quiet space. The learning commons is anchored by the ceremonial room which was a key component that emerged from extensive community engagement sessions.
MODERN INNOVATION MEETS TRADITIONAL LEARNING
The school demonstrates that innovative, leading-edge design and technologies can be successfully integrated with more traditional and time-honoured ways of knowing. The new addition incorporates contemporary sustainable strategies such as passive solar design and high-performance mechanical and lighting systems. Materials and building products are chosen based on sustainable design principles, and when possible, sourced from local providers. The building’s educational programming, as well, integrates the community’s desire to stay current with learning standards while paying homage to traditional teachings. Spaces are flexible and supportive, encouraging myriad ways of learning and exploring.