"I see a change!" exclaims a kindergarten student, pointing to a newly blossomed flower on a bush along the sidewalk on Mahon Ave.
"Me too," another student yells. "Change!"
Students in Paul Wright's kindergarten class at Queen Mary Community Elementary School are walking from their school up to Wagg Creek Park. Along the way they are looking for changes in nature that they notice compared to last week's walk up to the park.
"Change!" another student yells. "The cherry blossoms are falling off the tree," she explains.
When they arrive at Wagg Creek Park, Wright asks his students to stop and listen for one minute.
"Do you hear anything different from last week?" he asks his young students.
"I hear more birds," one student replies.
"It sounds the same to me," another says.
Every Friday, throughout the entire school year, Wright has walked his class up to Wagg Creek Park. The weekly ritual started as an adventure out of the classroom to check out local nature, and has transformed into a powerful place-based learning experience connected to the local municipality and local secondary school.
After the class' first trip to the park, students had questions about how the creek is managed. Wright asked the City of North Vancouver about it. As a result, an environmental technician from the municipality came to visit the class. Students learned about all of the efforts that are undertaken to keep the creek healthy, such as a rain garden, drainage basins and garbage cleanup.
As the year progressed, science lessons were incorporated into the weekly outing. These lessons increased in complexity as the breadth and depth of the students' inquiries increased.
Meanwhile, up the hill at Carson Graham Secondary, Laurie Louwe, a science and biology teacher, who has also been involved in the North Vancouver School District's Indigenous Education Department for many years, was looking for an opportunity for her students to go out into the community in a meaningful way, to share their growing knowledge of the natural world around them.
"I was trying to create a community of learners where my students could become the teachers, and build their leadership skills," said Louwe.
Willow Mumford, the teacher leader for the Carson Graham family of schools, introduced Wright to Louwe, and the three of them created a plan for each of Louwe's grade 11 classes to be partnered with a kindergarten class from Queen Mary Community Elementary School. Paula Jasek and Christina Empey, kindergarten teachers at Queen Mary Elementary, agreed to take part in the pilot project, with the help of parent volunteers to accompany the kindergarten students to the park.
The kindergarten and grade 11 students started to meet at Wagg Creek Park each week. Each partnering set of classes had a different focus in the park, with the overall goal of building relationships between the secondary and primary students.
"It was amazing to see how well the kindergarten and grade 11 students connected," said Wright. "They really came together to explore science questions collaboratively. They felt connected to the project because it was directly related to our local creek and park."
The kindergarten students then visited their older partners at Carson Graham Secondary in the science lab. The students worked at many stations where they looked through microscopes, identified shells, bones, feathers and tree species, and encountered live specimens. Mrs. Louwe's classroom snake, Ichabod, was a particular favourite of the kindergarten visitors.
Their final meeting was a longer walk through the lower Wagg Creek Park, where the grade 11 students helped their little buddies find indigenous and invasive plant species on a scavenger hunt along the path.
"The young kids were so excited!" said Wright.
For Louwe's students, they also learned a lot through this partnership with the local elementary school. Their connections to their little buddies was a valuable lesson in building a community of learners, and was an opportunity for leadership and reciprocity, all key elements to help indigenize the curriculum.
"This project has been a powerful new way to engage my students as caring young adults. It's been wonderful to see them in such a different setting, as they guide their little buddies through the natural world and the structured activities in the lab. They consolidated their own learning through guiding others, building their skills of observation, communication and leadership," said Louwe.
Overall, the project was undertaken through an Indigenous lens, focusing on respect, relevance, reciprocity, and responsibility related to the natural environment.