Students at Walter Murray Collegiate are learning about the importance of shelterbelts, the restoration of natural habitat and marshland, and regenerative agriculture and soil health as part of a unique partnership.
Students in Grade 9 physical education/health classes taught by Brian Thorstad have taken advantage of the opportunity to discover prairie ecosystems and connect with nature thanks to the efforts of Restoring 71, One School One Farm, and SaskOutdoors.
"Katie Suek of Restoring 71 has been doing Zoom call presentations with classes to educate students about the importance of restoring natural prairie habitat and how important it is to the health of our soil, animals, our planet, and our own health," Thorstad explained.
"A presentation from a soil scientist at the University of Saskatchewan provided an opportunity to educate students about the importance of soil health and the class has been learning about regenerative agriculture and its ability to build healthy, long-lasting soil that draws down carbons."
Students made their first trip out to Restoring 71 Natural Area in October when they met Suek and her dog, Gabby, for a tour of the site.
"Katie showed us many types of plants and educated us on their importance to the ecosystem. She also pointed out many features in the landscape, types of soil, marshes and how the plants are connected to the soil," Thorstad said.
"Students were able to give back to the land by each planting a pine tree in the shelterbelt that Aaron and Katie are creating. It was amazing to watch the students as they connected with nature and learned so much about the little things that we take for granted about prairie ecosystems."
Connections to the Grade 9 health curriculum included learning about how healthy ecosystems and healthy soil lead to healthy and sustainable food that prevents chronic disease. Positive food choices were promoted, with students packing a healthy lunch and being challenged to avoid single-use plastic. Hiking in an alternative environment and learning respect for that environment connected to the Physical Education 9 curriculum. The students were highly engaged by the trip to Restoring 71 and the experience left a strong impact, which was shown in their journal writings.
The Restoring 71 Natural Area, located east of Saskatoon near Grandora, has more than four kilometres of trails providing access to several habitat features as well as an outdoor classroom space. Information is available on the Restoring 71 Facebook page.
The partnership between Walter Murray students and Restoring 71 was facilitated by the One School One Farm Shelter Belt Project as part of its work to connect urban schools with farms. It is one of several partnerships involving Saskatoon Public Schools' classrooms that offer a hands-on opportunity to explore curricular goals. More information is available at One School One Farm.
The students' visits to the Restoring 71 site were supported by grant funding from SaskOutdoors and SaskLotteries. SaskOutdoors offers grants for projects that have an outdoor and/or environmental education or environmental action focus.