Cookshire Elementary School has morphed into a “Living School,” one of the first public schools to join the “Living Campus” movement, integrating nature and community into its curriculum.
The initiative is a collaborative one, led by Chris Adam, Living Campus coordinator at Dawson College in Montreal. He is involved in the St. Francis Valley Naturalists’ Club, which has, for 25 years, sponsored field trips led by naturalists for school children in the Eastern Townships School Board. The naturalists offered workshops that introduced students to the secret lives of plants and animals, and this is just what Adam did when he visited Cookshire.
“We see that kids are struggling with stress and anxiety,” said Tina Jacklin, principal of the Cookshire school. “We asked how can we help them, and just watching the students during those workshops, I saw there was a key there. The kids were captivated.”
“Technology is a wonderful tool, but a lot of times our kids aren’t getting outside and enjoying nature, so we’re taking this step to help them see how nature can be restorative.”
The project began with a unanimous decision by the school’s staff to integrate nature into the study program. The focus on nature includes the core value of well-being for all. That is, all people, all species, and the environment, “reconnecting people, community and Nature.”
In June, Jacklin led a tour of the school for journalists and visitors from partnering organizations, including Michael Murray, chairperson of the Eastern Townships School Board.
The group toured a worm farm, where students fed compost to worms and noted they like to eat bananas and apples, but not the skins. Students showed them a Recycle – Reuse – Reduce program to prevent the world from being engulfed in plastic garbage.
They saw a butterfly nursery, and a happiness wall where children wrote and drew pictures of what makes them happy. Some responses: My teacher, my family, tractors, learning, my animals, and camping.
In the playground behind the Cookshire school, a “Bugz Inn” was inaugurated and a Golden Plum tree was planted, to the applause of the entire school community.
An outdoor “classroom” in the playground is to include a sensory path with plants to appeal to the different senses, and places for children to relax and have time out. A comedy show is planned for the fall as a fundraiser for this initative.
Murray looks forward to getting financial support for the Living Schools initiative from both government and private enterprise, and introducing it in other Eastern Townships schools. Jacklin said several other schools have recently joined the movement: Concordia University, Sutton and Parkview elementary schools, and several schools in Mexico.