The way Raft River Elementary students learn could look a bit different in the future if a bid for an outdoor learning area is successful.
Elizabeth Shook, a teacher at the elementary school, announced on Aug. 19 that School Board 73 had approved the construction of an outdoor classroom structure on school grounds.
Not only will the new classroom structure provide a learning environment that supports their current outdoor education, while also allowing students to get a breath of fresh air, it will be available for community members to use and enjoy as well.
The project is in the funding stage with a goal of $170,000. So far, they’ve raised $34,000 from donations from the Wells Gray Community Forest as well as the Sikh community. Several grants to help reach the goal have also been applied for, and the group is also looking for local contributions.
The outdoor learning structure has been in the works for about five years by both the Raft River Elementary PAC and the Raft River Outdoor Education Committee. A grant was provided from the WGCF to hire a consultant to help create their final design. Considering the space would mainly be for the students, two “Maker Day” events were organized, giving the kids the opportunity to design and create their dream outdoor learning classroom.
“We gave the morning to plan in small groups and follow the design steps that a designer would take, ask the questions, think about what the problems might be, what materials might you need, and then they had to actually build a model,” said Shook in a video about the classroom, filmed by local Ken Matheson. “We wanted the kids to have ownership of it. We wanted their input.”
Students from Kindergarten to Grade 7 participated in the activity.
After feedback was obtained from teachers, community members and parents, a final design concept was created.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on the progress of the structure, but it shed light on the importance of having an outdoor space for students to learn in and breath fresh air. Another component of the outdoor learning space is children learn by doing and experiencing things first hand and the classroom will be outfitted with seating, tables, shade cover and protection from rain, as well as allowing lessons, presentations and hands-on activities to take place.
The outdoor classroom isn’t the first time the teachers of Raft River have taken their lessons outside. Several learning stations have been established around school grounds, where the kids can learn about the natural environment.
“The other thing that’s really special about our design is it’s not just a structure — it’s an area that kids can interact with and just learn from just being in that environment,” said Shook.
The school grounds boasts a wetlands, a pollinator garden and the children planted 12 native conifer trees this past spring to create a learning forest.
Parents have expressed their support for the outdoor space as well, noting children who learn about the environment from a young age will grow up to appreciate it more.
“The more connected children are, the more compassionate and caring they become as adults,” said Julia Bonnamour in the video. “With the state with where the world is at, we need more people that care about the environment and we need more compassionate, connected people.”
The project is currently in the fundraising stage, and Shook said building permits will also be applied for soon, with concrete components of the structure completed in November. If all goes as planned, she added, the construction of the structure could start in April 2022. The proposed completion date is May 2022.
Special thanks to the Wells Gray Community Forest, the Sikh community, Clearwater Rotary Club, the Raft River Outdoor Committee, the Kamloops-North Thompson School Board and the Raft River Parent Advisory Board.
“The project would not be able to move ahead without their support,” said Shook.
For more information, contact Julie Bonnamour at email@example.com or Elizabeth Shook at firstname.lastname@example.org.