Maple Ridge academics and the natural world

Meadowridge students get practical training and help fish as well

  • Jun. 29, 2016 5:00 p.m.

(Above) James Willms

Meadowridge School is having its students put down their devices and get outdoors.

The private International Baccalaureate Continuum World School on 240th Street is increasingly embracing principles like environmental stewardship, gardening and outdoor classrooms.

Headmaster Hugh Burke walks the grounds of the school with James Willms, a Grade 5 teacher and Meadowridge’s new coordinator of outdoor experiential education, and shows the work that the school has been doing outside.

Burke said every student at Meadowridge from Grade 4 up has a laptop.

“But the idea that digital is education is not something that we embrace,” he said. “Looking at a digital picture of a forest is different from being in a forest.”

The school has been doing work to get rid of invasive species in the watershed around Latimer Creek, which runs along the school’s northern border. It has also been creating almost two kilometers of trails through the ravine and three bridges over the watercourse, so students can access the area.

They learned that there are red-legged frogs – an endangered species – there, and built a special frog pond habitat to help them thrive.

The students have planted the top of the ravine with Douglas fir, big leaf maple and red elderberry, and the slope has newly planted salmonberries, sword ferns, cedars and vine maples. The Himalayan blackberries, an invasive species that had taken over the area, are gone.

Students have built bat houses in shop classes, and recently discovered they have to hang them a lot higher off the ground in order to attract occupants.

The work has been done with advice from local environmental stewardship groups, including the Alouette River Management Society, Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership, and the South Coast Conservation Program.

It’s not necessarily the kind of activity that one associates with a highly academic environment, but both men say it fits with teaching kids to be well-rounded learners.

“People confuse academic learning with text,” said Burke. “If you’re going to be an anthropologist or an archeologist, books are great. But experience is critical. If you’re going to be an engineer and you’ve never build anything – which is the case for a lot of kids going in – that’s a problem.”

A new playground at the school will feature natural logs and water pumps. It will be similar in design to the playground at Whonnock Lake, said Burke.

Near the ravine are planter boxes, 12 feet long and two feet wide. One is a pollinator garden to attract bees, humming birds and butterflies. Students do the gardening.

Students have looked at the impact of humans on pollinators, and how use of chemicals on lawns can kill honey bees.

“The Grade 1s wrote letters to pesticide manufacturers,” noted Burke.

Older students are doing streamflow and temperature measurements, and species counting work.

Willms said all grade levels benefit by the work outdoors. Younger grades generally are given the opportunity to explore and experience the natural environment, and learn what lives next to stream. As get older do more enquiry, and get into processes and natural cycles.

“By the time they hit high school or late middle school, they’re really well equipped. They have experience and they have knowledge, and they’re really starting to dig into issues,” he said.

Kindergarten students produced a book where they all imagine themselves as animals.

Grade 11 and 12 biology students have been working in their greenhouse, comparing Monsanto seeds to organic seeds under a variety of conditions they control.

“The kids begin to interrogate the political and economic culture that gives rise to monocultures. And that’s a pretty academic pursuit,” said Burke.

Burke said the school draws students from nine different public school districts, so a lot of families are discovering Maple Ridge’s wild places, and they see a new value in it.

“We’re all getting caught up in the idea that we have to reintroduce our children to the natural world.”

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