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Connaught’s oasis in the concrete jungle

By Charlie Senack – 

Connaught Public School, located at 1149 Gladstone Ave., is surrounded by a concrete jungle of high rise condos but in the middle of it all sits an urban oasis — a place where students can learn, play and grow.

As a part of Connaught’s schoolyard renewal campaign, the parent council wanted to find ways to revitalize a small section of land tucked in the corner of the schoolyard.

“We had to utilize every single square inch that we had and we had to figure out how we would make this space into something the kids would be able to use,” says Kerry Barnes, a parent on the school’s council championed the schoolyard renewal project.

At the beginning of the 2017/2018 school year, the parent council asked the teachers for their input on how the space should be used and then started to get to work. Parent volunteers crafted and installed log benches, purchased new picnic tables, and covered the ground in clover.

The project was funded through donations and by profits made at the school’s annual Earth Day plant sale, which raised $700 this year.

The school has been tending a garden for several years but it saw a revamp under the renewal project with new and larger garden beds installed.

Michelle Richardson, a grade four and five teacher at Connaught who helps oversee the garden, says while the Nature Education Centre is a good place for students to learn about the importance of healthy eating and providing to neighbours through a partnership with the Parkdale Food Centre, it’s also a good place for students to work on other  activities relating to the curriculum.

“They can write about it, they can do math assignments related to it, so there’s lots of cross-curricular activities that can happen through the garden and the Nature Education Centre,” says Michelle.

Connaught PS outdoor garden

Fourth graders Vicki Ann, Kaylib, Trina, and Ben are in the Connaught PS class that is working on the garden section of the Nature Education Centre. Photo by Charlie Senack

Michelle also adds the garden is a good fit for students who may struggle in the classroom, but thrive in the outside environment where they can stick their hands in the mud.

“It takes a slightly different approach than being in the classroom,” she says, “but I would say the hook and the interest that you get from students is more far-reaching.”

These are sentiments echoed by the students. “It’s a lot more calm than being in the classroom — especially on days when it’s hot,” says Ben, a grade four student.

“It is nice to get out of the classroom and not just be looking out of the windows but actually be outside where it is calm,” says fellow classmate, Vicki Ann.

Another new feature this year to the space is an insect hotel, a small structure which invites bugs of all kinds to make the schoolyard their home.

Arnaud Montagny is the teacher overseeing the insect hotel but isn’t taking credit for the idea.

“Being from Europe, there are a lot of these structures in public areas like schools, libraries and parks,” says Arnaud. “I volunteered the idea when asked if I would like to be a part of the new Nature Education Centre and I am glad I did. It has been a fun journey to complete with the students.”

Talking to some of Arnaud’s grade four students, they shared his excitement and said they are looking forward to being outdoors and seeing what kinds of insects they can find.

“I am fascinated about nature and I think that it’s a very cool topic,” says Isaac, a fourth grader at Connaught. ”Getting to be outside and help make a home for a bunch of insects is really fun.”

“I like joining every club that I can, but most of them are indoors,” adds Isaac’s classmate Becky. “This club is a good experience to have fun outdoors, learn about bugs and just have fun outdoors.”

More information on Connaught’s Nature Education Centre can be found at connaughtschoolyardrenewal.ca.

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