Celebrating Outdoor Learning

Fresh air, nature’s beauty, inclusive learning. There’s a win, win, win taking place at Hillcrest Elementary.

Fresh air education: Hillcrest students

Fresh air education: Hillcrest students

Fresh air, nature’s beauty, inclusive learning.

There’s a win, win, win taking place at Hillcrest Elementary.

When school goals were being set, more chances for students to learn outdoors was one of the priorities, says principal Alan Harrison.

“It seems like kids are spending more time indoors, more screen time. We wanted more time outdoors, we find it regulates kids.”

Teachers Tammy Meerza and Stacy Morrison, together with aboriginal support worker Launa Payne, led the way.

A location was chosen and alternate school students worked with teachers and students to get the ground ready.

Then the Adams Lake division of Interfor generously donated and dropped off large poles for the structure.

“We tried to model it somewhat on a traditional home, a kekuli. It’s circular and it’s sunken a bit – we dug it out so it’s slightly down – and with posts and an east-facing entrance,” says Payne, explaining the location of the entrance honours the rising of the sun, a feature of many traditional homes.

She’s thrilled with the new classroom, a great perspective for sharing aboriginal teachings.

“Pretty much all my time at Hillcrest is spent outside at the outdoor classroom,” she says. “It really reinforces all the interconnectedness. Being outside and learning all the traditional values are really hand in hand.”

Métis artist John Sayers has also contributed a lot.

“He worked with students and did carving on the poles – eagles, animal tracks, four bears and a sun located on the pole,” says Harrison.

Work on the final phase is underway, which entails a cable-system set up, like a sail, to control a fabric-type roof for the classroom.

Harrison explains that Roots and Blues’ David Gonella is a parent at Hillcrest, so the school will be using the same Revelstoke company that designed the blue jean stage at last year’s music festival.

Harrison said the roof is expected to be done at the end of March.

Former Hillcrest parent Rick Dubois, who has a cedar mill in Malakwa, provided eight large cedar logs that were turned into bench seats

“Now when you go out with your class, they’re seated in a circle,” says Harrison.

Classes have already been using the new classroom to great success, he says, noting that often the students who have the most difficulty learning indoors are the most engaged when they’re outdoors.

“The students love it. They’ve certainly helped – hauled logs over, put rocks in, put bark mulch in.”

Parents and grandparents have also been extremely supportive. The parent advisory council donated $2,800 while families have donated time and money.

The school has raised $3,400 to date and is aiming for a goal of $4,500 in order to complete the final phase, says Harrison. Anyone interested in donating is asked to contact Hillcrest.

“So far everything has been done because of donations and in-kind work,” he says. “I think it’s maybe the most buy-in from teachers and staff and parents from every project we’ve done. Everybody’s interested in having their kids learn outdoors.”