Milestone School may take on a new look by the end of this school year, thanks to a community initiative spurred by students.
For the past several months, Rebecca Carson’s Grade 4 class has been drawing, designing, fundraising and pitching their plans for an outdoor classroom to school board officials, local businesses and community groups.
Their hope is to construct a gazebo-style structure adjacent to the school that would be used as a classroom setting and double as a community meeting room outside of school hours.
“Through COVID, the school’s goal is to be outside as much as possible when learning,” Carson explained of the project her students have taken on. “When we’re outside, students are able to space out and learn without wearing their masks. When we’re in the classroom, we try to space out as best we can. Sometimes we’re just not able to be six feet apart and, therefore, not able to take off our masks.”
Ideally, Carson said a local construction crew would construct their desired outdoor classroom. The students voted to build a rectangular, partially enclosed gazebo with two walls with stadium-like seating and a third open wall with a chalkboard. The structure would seat roughly 25 people.
As of the end of February, the class was still searching for a local construction company to complete the project.
The hope is to have the Saskatchewan Outdoor Classroom – named by the class – standing by the end of June, with the finer details like painting and tree planting to follow.
“I’m hopeful that any business that is able to help us out for the actual construction aspect, if they wouldn’t mind having Grade 4 students in little hard hats and safety vests helping out where they could,” she said. “I would love if the students could play a small role in that part of the construction to continue with their learning process.
“I would gladly sacrifice a day of class time if the students were able to learn in a different way by doing something with that.”
The Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association drew inspiration from the students and the work they’re doing and donated to the project.
“I think what caught my eye was when the story aired how ‘Saskatchewan’ it was and how well it tied into the belief of the association and our members on giving back to the community,” said SHCA president Shantel Lipp. “It was also a great reminder of the prairie-born ‘fix it on the farm’ mentality that lives here. If there’s a problem, we look at ways to find a solution and that’s what those kiddos are doing with this project.”
Carson’s class, along with others from the school, took advantage of the warm fall weather and shifted much of their learning outdoors in September and October. However, with the exception of a large play structure, the majority of the school grounds is bare – no trees to provide shade or barriers to protect from the wind.
The students occasionally would grumble about being outdoors and exposed to the elements.
They soon started talking about wanting a structure where they could be sheltered from the sun and the wind, all the while being outside and learning.
Carson was on board with the idea. But rather than taking control of the situation, she deferred to her students to address the problem and find solutions. Carson would simply act as a guide.
The students split into groups and got to work.
“The kids started doing their research. They looked into structural designs, drew their own designs and presented all of their work to the class and to school board officials,” Carson said, adding the students factored in wheelchair accessible paths and ramps leading to the structure and which trees they’d like planted on the school property.
Water drainage from the roof of the new structure would filter into a water collection jug, with the collected water used to help grow the newly planted trees, all of which would be native to Saskatchewan.
There’s a catch, however.
Approximately $60,000 is needed to build the structure. Plus, Grade 4 students aren’t exactly equipped for such a job.
This hasn’t deterred the students.
Carson is using this as a learning opportunity and grading the students on various steps throughout this process. They’re being graded on their designs, collaborative work in groups, math-related tasks like adding donation totals and their oral presentation to school board officials.
Students worked with architecture firm Crosby, Hanna and Associates to create concept drawings.
They’ve also been calling local businesses and pitching their outdoor classroom plan and asking for donations.
“I asked the students, ‘How are we going to get the money to pay for this?’” said Carson.
The kids suggested different themed food days – selling ice cream treats, hosting a sandwich or a pizza day, a bottle drive and selling tickets to raffle baskets.
At the end of February, the class had received more than $6,500 in donations to raffle baskets from several local businesses like Redwing Shoes and gift cards to Temple Gardens Hotel & Spa in Moose Jaw.
Every dollar received through donations will go into the Saskatchewan economy.
Anyone interested in making a monetary donation or donating items to raffle baskets or purchasing raffle tickets can phone Milestone School (306-436-2292) or contact Rebecca Carson (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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