A project to get students at Burnaby’s Kitchener Elementary School outside more often was launched even before COVID drove home how important fresh air is in schools, according to principal Dino Klarich.
He says a growing shift in the school’s population was another good reason for it to invest in outdoor education.
“Because look what’s coming,” he says, pointing to a cluster of condo towers in nearby Brentwood.
In the future, Klarich predicts more of Kitchener’s students will come from apartments without backyards and it’s important they get a chance to get outdoors at school.
“Kids can’t be, as we know, just inside,” he says. “They need other opportunities to be outside.”
The school recently unveiled a new outdoor classroom, complete with garden planters, six stone seats and a colourful, 110-foot mural.
It took the whole 2020-21 school year to complete and was ready in time to greet returning students in September.
The forest-themed mural, which features hawks (the school’s mascot) and other woodland creatures, was created in partnership with the City of Burnaby community arts program and the school’s parent advisory council.
“In addition to artists from the city program, more than 350 people contributed their painting skills,” stated a school district news release about the mural. “There was an opportunity for every student from kindergarten to Grade 7 to participate, as well as school and district staff.”
Klarich said the project has transformed an “underutilized,” “blah” courtyard into a vibrant, outdoor teaching space and he hopes to keep adding to it in the future.
“This is a starting point,” he said. “We’re not finished.”
The Kitchener project is among a growing number of outdoor classrooms around the district, including at Aubrey, Clinton and Confederation Park.
Last fall, 120 local teachers attended a session to learn more about facilitating outdoor learning opportunities, which the district says come with health benefits, stimulate curiosity and creative thinking, and foster an appreciation for nature.
“Outdoor learning is continuing and will continue,” Klarich said.