By Maria Spitale-Leisk, NVSD Communications
Principal Bill Reid opens the large metal door and immediately steps into an ethereal oasis – also known as the Heart of Cleveland.
Reid breathes in the fresh mountain air intermixed with the smell of flowers, and the sight of butterflies flitting in the lush green scenery of the school courtyard.
The seed for this new outdoor learning space was planted in the mid-1950s – even before L'École Cleveland Elementary existed.
As the Dawn Redwood grew taller and taller, the surrounding forested area was cleared for a new neighbourhood.
But the rare Redwood remained.
In 1962, Cleveland school was built around the coniferous tree, creating a beloved courtyard.
Students and teachers came and went.
The tree grew.
By 1997, the courtyard had become overgrown.
After librarian Sandra Santarossa arrived at Cleveland, the hidden sanctuary slowly revealed itself again.
Santarossa, other teachers, students and parents gradually improved the space – cleaning out junk and adding native plants and seating areas.
Voilà: A link between indoor and outdoor learning spaces at Cleveland.
The library, courtyard and tree have grown and evolved together, fostering quiet and thoughtful learning, creative pursuits and environmental and social responsibility.
A few years ago, teacher-librarian Myriam Dumont imagined a renewed library and courtyard learning space.
Parent Advisory Council would lead the project with support from the school’s administration, along with design input from teachers and students.
Consultations resulted in Forma Design, owned by a former Cleveland family, working with the school community to develop a courtyard blueprint.
Principal Bill Reid looks at an artist's rendering depicting the new courtyard.
But how to bring the Heart of Cleveland to life?
There were numerous CPAC fundraisers over the course of a year and a half, including a Heart of Cleveland donation drive, silent auction, kids’ pyjama party, family fun day with rides and games, and a parent social.
The Grade 7 classes of 2018 and 2019 also contributed to the courtyard project, as part of their legacy gifts to the school.
A contractor was hired. Then, over the spring and summer of 2020, the dirt canvas was gradually coloured in shades of green.
Other features soon appeared: a butterfly garden, rainbow bench, native plant and flower garden, bird feeders, bench swing, and a stone amphitheatre.
As a new school year dawned in September, the Heart of Cleveland was ready to be embraced by students.
The revitalized courtyard promises to be a space for students to learn and investigate, relax and read, or simply play and hang out.
This inspiring, natural environment invites exploration and hands-on learning – giving students a change of pace from the classroom.
A student reads against a rainbow of murals, legacy art created by Grade 7 grads, framing the courtyard on one side.
The new space also supports Cleveland’s commitment to alternate learning opportunities.
“We’ve been very much focused on that over the last couple of years,” confirms Principal Reid, standing beside a stone creek bed snaking through the courtyard.
On this warm September morning, a class of intermediate students, normally seated at desks, are learning in a leafy scene – engrossed in their books, and nature.
Students read on the new bench swing in the courtyard.
Outdoor learning is king at Cleveland.
Reese, a new student at the school, is digging the environment.
“I like being outside,” she says. “I think it’s a good spot to learn. I like being connected to nature.”
Ms. Dumont knows taking library time outside yields positive returns.
“It gives the students the power and freedom to make their own choices with where they want to learn,” she says.
Relaxing with a good read in a tree overlooking the courtyard is the preferred spot for some Cleveland students.
Project lead and Cleveland parent Jessica Bratty, who's been praised by fellow PAC members for her leadership, vision, as well as project execution, explains how this renovation is not only a gift for the students, but also the staff.
"Teachers and admin are working very hard right now and I hope the space has made things a bit easier, and that they feel parents' support and appreciation," says Bratty.