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Once barren schoolyard now a place of play, nature, and learning

June 07, 2022

CPS -4 540x420.jpgAs students planted trees and garden plots in the playground at City Park School this spring it marked another step in the transformation of the school's outdoor space into multifunctional areas for learning and play.

"The outdoor space reflects what we believe," said Principal Jonelle Ulrich. "We challenge the premise that classrooms must have four walls. Learning is all around us and all of our programs embrace the outdoors. We often find that learning by getting outside and doing field studies fuels our sense of wonder and supports inquiry learning.

"We are so fortunate to have the river just steps away. We wanted our outdoor space to complement the scenic, natural world around us and create another inviting space to host the school and surrounding community."

The transformation of the building's exterior spaces during the past few years goes hand-in-hand with the renovation of the school's interior to accommodate the programs that call City Park home. During the last half-dozen years, the almost century-old building has been reimagined as a Montessori elementary school and a centre for the Ecoquest and FLEX unique programs and Online Learning Elementary.

CPS-7 540x420.jpgBecause City Park was a high school for most of its life there was no playground area like a typical elementary school. Four years ago, parents and staff threw their support behind fundraising and planning activities as the school began a phased-in approach to reimagine the site. The first project was a tarmac area that students use for games of basketball and four square and activities such as the school's skipping club.

Fundraising for playground structures to serve the school's elementary population came from several larger grants as well as many smaller-scale fundraisers within the school. Keeping with the school's community and goals, the playground incorporates natural elements to encourage creative physical exploration.

"We choose to learn outside as much as possible and these spaces make that even more welcoming. The playground reflects a natural colour scheme and includes natural objects for climbing and tactile learning opportunities," Ulrich said, adding the facilities are popular with community members who visit after school hours and on weekends.

The interest and investment of students has played an important role in creating the school's outdoor environment. Students have shared ideas for the spaces and have literally dug in to plant trees and tend to garden plots.

CPS -6 540x420.jpg"On our annual gardening days our students also plant beautiful flowers with an adult they love to make the entrance welcoming," Ulrich said. "We think this shows just how much we love our school and being part of the City Park community. Most of our students come from all over the city and we love being guests in City Park and hosts in our community."

Students and staff have several options when it comes to learning outdoors, including an area in front of the school that offers log seating in a shady location for hot days. The most recent project is the development of a learning space behind the school. It offers students and teachers a grassed classroom area with recycled tire seating, trees, flowers, and vegetable garden. As the trees grow, their shade will provide welcoming spots for students to learn together. There is also a peace pole and an original "park bench" donated by an 80-year-old City Park alum serves as a buddy bench. The installation of a four-hole disc golf course is expected before the end of the current school year. Future plans include planting a garden on an annual basis, a greenhouse, and a refresh of the retaining wall area at the back of the school.

CPS-9.jpg"We wanted to be sure there was lots of green space that is open and allows for wide games at recess and encourages physical education classes to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. The garden areas help support our knowledge of many species' life cycles, provide an opportunity for students to observe nature in nature," Ulrich said.

"Our staff are passionate about the learning environments they enjoy with their students every day. You see the pride they have in our school in their actions as they beautify the spaces inside and out."