By Evan Allardyce, Teacher, Handsworth Secondary School
In 2020, the Aventures en Plein Air program at Handsworth Secondary School was reincarnated as a placed-based, interdisciplinary French Immersion course that permitted students in grades 8 and 9 to obtain their Science, Social Studies, and Physical and Health Education credits.
The goal was to provide students the opportunity to learn in the environment that best suited the content being studied, as well as to develop environmental conservation and community engagement. Luckily, we have an amazing place to engage with in our local community.
However, COVID-19 meant that like every other aspect of our lives, the program had to be completely reimagined. In August 2020, I set out from Handsworth Secondary, looking for local parks, forests and landmarks where students could study. What I found was a park in need of some care.
Sarita Park, August 2020.
After reaching out to the District of North Vancouver and Metro Vancouver, it was discovered Sarita Park was a shared space with no immediate plans to redevelop.
We received the go ahead to plan to install an outdoor classroom and pollinator garden, working with Metro Vancouver. Students were then asked to develop a plan to install the gardens and support local pollinators. By October 2020, we were installing the first two garden beds of their design.
Preparation of gardens.
The work has continued on this project, maintaining the gardens and beginning to naturalize the park as well. Students have taken part in multiple invasive plant removal and indigenous plantings since September 2020. The project continues with more invasive plant removals and the installation of seating by June 2023.
This work has allowed students authentic, meaningful and engaging opportunities to apply what they are learning in class to real-world environments--from understanding plant reproduction, the characteristics of life, the impact of colonialization and invasive plants, the study of indigenous plants and the role green spaces play in society. It also allowed the students to engage in a project where they can improve their local community and take greater pride in the work they are completing.
Here is what some of the grade 8 students thought of the project:
For me, the benefits were to get some exercise, to help our community and to make our community a generally better and nicer place to live, learn and thrive. That and I love being outside.
The benefits for me were that there were more hands-on activities; I was able to learn outside, exercise outside and take part in a project that could help our community!
For me, the benefits were that I could go outside more. I was more motivated to go outside and go to school because I had something to look forward to. I was happy to help the community and build a space everyone could use!
For me, the benefits were that I tried a different style of learning that I had never done before, as well as learn things I never would have learned in a normal class. I found it created a much more casual and supportive environment, and at the end of the day, I felt good about myself because I was helping everyone that uses the park.
Lastly, it has afforded students the opportunity to study different career paths, whether completing a BioBlitz with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, developing a pollinator garden with the David Suzuki Foundation's Butterfly Ways, or working on Park Improvement with Metro Vancouver's Field Biologist and Arborist.
Sarita Park is truly a space that continues to evolve and support student learning.
First planting of gardens.