Tucked away in a quiet little stand of trees and surrounded by the natural beauty of the Shuswap, just over 100 students in Salmon Arm spent their first week back to school learning in the great outdoors.
The South Canoe Outdoor Learning School is an outdoor school project that has been talked about extensively in Salmon Arm, with many parents, educators and students seeming thrilled at the idea of taking learning out of the typical classroom setting. With classes for the 2018-19 school year underway, the outdoor school has finally come to fruition.
The first days are turning out to be a bit of a learning experience for the staff at the outdoor school, but principal Isabelle Gervais says the outlook and energy levels for students, staff and parents at the school is sky-high.
“We have had beautiful weather first of all, what a great way to start. I think the kids are excited about being outside, I know our staff are and I think it’s good for all of us,” she says. “The energy level here is great and everyone is just really working hard to make this work, and enjoying the work too.”
For both the teachers and students the transition from classroom-based learning has been a bit of a change — albeit one they seem eager to make.
“Our staff, a lot of them have done outdoor learning with students but never as a whole school where you have to rethink everything, nobody has a classroom,” Gervais says. “For me it’s like every other school year: there are always things we need to tweak, but I think what I have found is being outside has been really good for me. It’s easier to connect with kids in an outdoor setting. You can sit in the grass together and just talk about things or help them build a fort. It’s a little bit different than in a classroom.”
As for the students, Gervais says that even after only a few days she noticed increasing engagement with their surroundings, other students and even with their work.
“We have had some really good little success stories. The older group did a one-day field trip to the South Canoe trails and they did a writing activity when they got back. It was kind of a simple writing activity with a storyline given to them with a setting in nature and the kids thought it was the best writing activity.”
In fact, Gervais says parents and teachers alike are already reporting some positive results — notably that kids are actually enthusiastic about doing their homework.
“A lot of parents have said their kids are excited to get up in the morning, they are looking forward to coming to school, they are sleeping well,” she says. “And we have kids who say ‘hey can I bring this story home and keep writing and bring it back tomorrow?’”
The staff at the outdoor school have also made it a point to involve parents and rally a community around the outdoor school.
We sent out a little call to parents, who were in for a whole week before classes helping us unpack stuff and making it their school as well,” Gervais says. “We know there is a lot of involvement from our parent community with wanting to come in and help and be part of this.”
Gervais notes they will be hosting community events at the school as well. There will be a harvest celebration community potluck dinner at the South Canoe School Sept. 25 at 5 p.m. that will be open to parents, family members and South Canoe residents. They also hope to host an information session in early October for parents who are curious to learn more about the outdoor school and see if it might be a good fit for their children.