UBC Students Support Outdoor Learning in Schools

imageI met Hartley Banack’s Faculty of Education (EDCP323) class outside the Botanical Gardens at UBC.   The class is a diversified group with some students completing Bachelor of Education requirements and some practicing educators working towards a diploma in Outdoor Education.  Several Vancouver schools are actively engaged in working with teachers and their Community Schools Teams to provide outdoor learning opportunities for their students so I was thrilled to be a part of this class.  We chatted about outdoor learning opportunities, challenges and goals at my school under the pagoda. We continued the discussion of possibilities and considerations en route to the amphitheater. Student presentations and discussion of articles focusing on experiential learning continued in a shaded area  of the amphitheater.  Discussing outdoor learning WHILE we were outdoors was a perfect.

imageIt was inspiring to be part of this class because it provides a model for outdoor learning that is currently being explored in many schools with a clear understanding of the merits of outdoor learning. In some cases, outdoor opportunities to learn are specifically focused on the sphere of P.E.  When I first started teaching in the Abbotsford school district, there was a P.E. specialist in every school.  The calibre of the instruction was high and I learned a lot from teachers with extensive background knowledge.  In my current context, I am still learning a lot from teachers with well developed background knowledge in Physical Education who are classroom teachers.  Mr. Wan has a passion for physical education and organizes equipment for classroom experiences, extra-curricular sports and outdoor opportunities at lunch.  His class each year  is trained  to set up badminton nets, the ping pong table and equipment for outdoor play at lunch time.  Ms. Harris has worked with Action Schools to train student leaders to facilitate games for the younger children and provide classroom equipment for outdoor play.  Teachers have participated in professional development and arranged for special outdoor events such as The Terry Fox Run, Sports Day, Jones Park play, Grade 6 Camp, kayaking in Deep Cove, Beach Day, and Queens Park day,  .  Parents actively fundraised for four years and worked with volunteers from the Knight and King Edward PriceSmart Foods to ensure out students had a playground for free play.

Ms. Collins, PAC and our ever supportive husbands worked with us to secure the Small neighbourhood grant and build four garden beds on the school grounds.  Several of our teachers have worked with their classes in the garden and been involved in programs such as Growing Chefs to teach students about science and food sources.  For many years Ms. Evans has worked with student leaders to facilitate participation in the Fruit and Veggie Program and the Dairy Foundation Program for early primary.  And yes, she even arranged for the cows to come to Tecumseh!  A sight to behold, kids sitting down on the cement fully engaged in just watching the cows.  School wide sorting of waste into composting, recycling and landfill garbage has also helped to extend learning about our environment and ecosystems.

Integrating outdoor learning beyond physical education and science is the next challenge.  Ms. Collins and Mr. Larson are actively involved in teaching students about human rights.  Their annual participation in Walk For Water is a great example of how the outdoor experience is integral to the learning.  Our playground includes picnic tables down by the swings.  This lends itself to allowing students to working outdoors.  One year my Grade 4 students looked up in the sky to see eagles attacking a crow.  It made for some great poetry!  The accessibility of iPads has allowed students to easily take their own photos to inspire or support their written work on Apps such as BookCreator or ExplainEverything.

Vancouver Schools are fortunate to have a well developed Community School Teams.  The secondary school and the elementary schools that feed into them form a hub.  Administrators meet regularly as a group and with the CST staff to provide opportunities and after school programs facilitated by student leaders from the secondary school and paid programmers.  In our school, the variety or field options and the garden allows for varied outdoor experiences.image

It is exciting for the discussion of outdoor learning opportunities in schools to be happening at the university and in schools with a mind to share ideas.   Hart Banack has assigned his students to form working groups to investigate the possibilities for outdoor learning in the school grounds and in the communities of several school sites in Vancouver.  The bank of ideas with details such as related costs and curriculum connections will be invaluable as the new year begins and yearly planning unfolds.  I can’t wait to hear their findings and ideas for sharing information with teachers.  Special thanks to Hart Banack, UBC and EDCP323 students for welcoming me into your class and supporting our work in schools.

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The Faces of Truth and Reconciliation 

Learning our own history and the racism and miscarriages of basic human rights and justice is important.  The United States has long grappled with the existence of slavery in its past and the tumultuous path of moving forward. Canada as a country has needed to step off its moral high ground and reframe our understanding of ourselves.  As we grapple with the existence of the Chinese head tax, Japanese internment camps, and now residential schools that existed for the purpose of cultural genocide, how can we move forward to a place of respect and appreciation?

The final presentation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa was met with skepticism or hope, depending on who you are.  I am a “cup is half full  kind of girl” and firmly in the hope camp.  I believe there is a path forward.  I attended the multi-faith service that brought United, Presbyterian and Anglican leaders and congregations together at St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church.  Jen was leading the children’s program and explained to the children that when Europeans first came to North America, they weren’t able to see the beauty in the people already living here.  Doug White, an inspirational and articulate former Snuneymuxw chief and Nanaimo lawyer, spoke passionately about how he wanted his grandchildren to be loved unconditionally not just tolerated.  Owning the tragedy and moving forward without bitterness is one face of truth and reconciliation.  Another face is learning about and embracing our collective history and celebrating what Aboriginal people bring to the table or as Jen would frame it, “seeing the beauty in the people who were here first”.

Our playground opening ceremony was a sight to behold.  Our dignitaries including student leaders, parents, community build volunteers from Overwaitea, our Habitat cheerleader and preschool families took their seats.  Primary students processed from the school carrying class paper chains and made a huge ring around the new primary playground ready for the honorary “paperchain cutting” by the PAC chairperson. Grade 5-7 students took their places on the field. The grade three and four students in divisions 9, 10, and 11 were the final students to process in.

Student led morning announcements include the acknowledgement and gratitude that we work and play on the ancestral lands of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh people. We are fortunate to work with Dena Galay, the Aboriginal School Support Worker, assigned to Tecumseh.  She has worked with students, facilitated programs and even shared 

stories, information and artifacts made by her mom with our students as they studied the contribution and experiences of Aboriginal people in Canada. For the opening ceremony, she brought cedar boughs for the playground and led three student drummers and the students of the three final divisions in a grand procession to make another circle around the playground and primary students. They chanted the words “hosiem” and “hatchka” from the Musqueam Haikomelen dialect, honoring and providing thanks for the space.  More than half of Aboriginal languages in the country reside in B.C., according to a 2010 report from the First Peoples’ Heritage, Languages and Culture Council.  There are only 278 fluent speakers of all three Halkomelem dialects.

 Ms. Galay also spoke the words she always uses when she finishes off a sessions with our students in Dene, Cree, Ojibway and Iroquois, languages from her childhood home in Saskatchewan.  The children responded with the English version: “All our relations”. Ben followed up with the familiar and well loved poem called “And My Heart Soars”, by Chief Dan George.   “The beauty of the trees…the softness of the air…the fragrance of the grass…the (view of the) summit of mountains…”  did speak to us.  And our hearts soared.  And yes, my hope for continued truth, understanding and meaningful reconciliation grows.

 

“It Takes An Entire Village to Raise a Child”

This has long been a favorite quote of mine that is beautifully depicted by George E. Miller II in my office. In my early years as an underemployed teacher, I worked in an out-of-school care centre in the basement of a school in Vancouver. This is where I first learned the importance of community in the life of a child and it took a firm place in my educational philosophy.   Hillary Clinton popularized this old African teaching into mainstream consciousness.  It is assumed in many aspects of school but not always overtly.  On Thursday, June 4th, it was positively radiant during the community build of our long-awaited playground. Our school in on the South Slope of East Vancouver. Many new Canadians have made their home here and demonstrate a work ethos and commitment to ensuring their children have the opportunities for a better life with all of the advantages we have in Canada.  Money is hard-earned and expenditures are carefully considered.

In September, our rapidly decomposing wooden playground structure finally had to be removed from the school grounds due to safety concerns.   This was not a surprise but a huge concern.   The quest to replace the playground took on a renewed intensity because it left a huge gap in during and after school hours activity. Our playground has always been a place where families gravitate to before and after school. Groups came together to dance, participate in Tai-Chi and exercise while the kids play on the playground.  Almost 500 children attend elementary school, Cantonese and Mandarin after school classes and preschool programs on site.  Teachers used the playground as one way to ensure students are getting the minimum requirement of 30 minutes of daily physical activity.  The parents and students in our community have been our main funders of the playground.  Most of the money has come from hot lunch sales spearheaded and organized by PAC president, Sirtaj Ali, and two walk-a-thons organized and facilitated by PAC member, Susan Biln.  Student leaders organized a Movie Night and raised over $600.00. Casino funds, small grants, an RBC work party by volunteers and direct donations from neighbours and staff provided the additional funds required.

PAC and school administration chose Habitat to supply the playground equipment due to their reputation for service and durability of the product. Jeff Musson from Habitat stepped forward to provide options within our price range and planning considerations. Murray Stewart and the VSB grounds crew stepped up with the background of all of the logistical knowledge, support required to make the project happen. Overwaitea stepped forward to provide the people power required for a community build.

On our build day, the weather cooperated and over 36 Overwaitea volunteers, the PAC president, VSB staff and the Habitat staff converged on the school grounds to make this playground a reality. Before school, kids were stomping on cardboard packaging and putting it in the cardboard recycling bin. By recess, they watched in amazement as the poles were placed in holes and the structure started to appear before their eyes. By 2:30 pm, they were watching as the cement truck was dumping cement into a convoy line of wheelbarrows. As the cement was shoveled in the holes, I heard one little girl summarize the situation for her peers: “The cement means that we get to keep it.”

   

The school coming together with the community to make the playground a reality was one part of the equation. The most significant sense of community came from the actual people involved in the project. They were up early and doing tough manual labour in the heat of the day. There were no complaints or begrudging the work. There was pure joy in doing something that mattered so much. The fascination and excitement of the kids was paralleled by the delight of Overwaitea volunteers and Habitat staff.   They talked to the kids, responded to cheers and expressions of thanks from kids and adults alike with smiles, laughter and enthusiasm. At the end of the day, we were all exhausted but also filled with a sense of euphoria that comes with making a big different in your little part of the world. The VSB grounds crew continued to bring the playground project to completion with surfacing and final touches. We are now ready for our safety check and we are getting ready to celebrate and play.

Special heartfelt thanks to all of PAC members, Overwaitea volunteers, VSB staff, Habitat staff and business community supporters who put their heart and soul into making the playground a reality and showing all of us “IT TAKES AN ENTIRE VILLAGE  TO RAISE A CHILD.”