Maple Ridge’s envrionmental school attracts attention

Program expanding to Grade 8 in fall, educators around the world are taking notice

An innovative outdoor education program offered by the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district is garnering attention from educators around the world.

School District No. 42’s Environmental School Project incorporates a number of different education models into a single self-guided, project-based, hands-on learning experience that takes place almost entirely outside of the classroom.

After a successful inaugural year with 63 students in kindergarten to Grade 7, the school will be expanding to include Grade 8 for 2012/13, with 75 kids taking part.

Clayton Maitland heads up the program and said part of what makes it unique is how the program takes advantage of the many resources in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows community to provide children in hands-on learning. As part of their studies on indigenous peoples, the class learns about the Katzie First Nation. For a lesson on governance and politics, the class visits Maple Ridge municipal hall. For biology and anatomy, the class studies fish species at the Allco Fish Hatchery.

“This is the power of experience as a learning engagement tool,” he said. “And we couldn’t do it without community support.”

School district superintendent Jan Unwin said the program has been an unmitigated success, and praised school board trustees for approving it two years ago.

“This program exceeded my expectations beyond belief,” she said.

The success of the program hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Since the program began in September, Maitland said he has been inundated with requests from educators around the world to visit and observe the program.

The school was even filmed by a documentary team from the National Film Board.

While Maitland said he appreciates the interest, the attention can be disruptive.

There have been so many people wanting to visit the program, Maitland said he has had to put restrictions on who can visit and when.

“We have to protect the learning environment,” he said. “We’re getting 30 to 40 requests per month, so we don’t want more visitors than students.”

Among those looking to adopt a similar outdoor education program have been aboriginal groups from Bella Bella and Northern Manitoba, looking to apply the program’s learning model to an aboriginal education curriculum.

The interest in the program highlights the need for educators to offer innovative education options for their students, according to school board trustee Ken Clarkson.

“A lot of people have been looking for innovation like this for a long time,” he said.