Parents build outdoor learning space in battle to keep school open


The CBE has identified as many as 46 Calgary schools as having low enrollment or less than 70% capacity.

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Parents at a North West public school are raising money to build an outdoor learning space in hopes of attracting more students and keeping the low-capacity school open.

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North Haven K-6 School is listed as having low enrollment – ​​less than 70% capacity – in this year’s Calgary Board of Education student accommodation plan, which means it could be closed in the next few years.

But parents are doing all they can to keep the community school vibrant, trying to raise $350,000 to build a ‘learning ground’ on the school grounds complete with amphitheater, trails, vegetation indigenous and aboriginal works of art.

“We have to up our game a bit and show that this outdoor space creates a school that is really part of a community, a community that owns its school,” said Jessica Conlin, who has two students at the school in Grades 3 and 5.

“I think that’s really the table stakes, which could really up the ante and get more kids here.”

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Conlin explained that although the community surrounding the school is full of young families, many students are rushing to take the programs of their choice, including French immersion, Mandarin and traditional learning.

Additionally, Conlin says North Haven has lost pupils to the new Northern Lights School in Coventry Hills, which just opened in September 2020 about a 10-minute drive away.

“We’re an older community, yes, but we lost almost half of our student population to Northern Lights when it opened.”

Conlin explained that while she respects families who make different choices for their children, she wants more to stay in the community because it creates a tight-knit group of families.

“You need look no further than the last two years of COVID, when kids were forced to learn at home and playing outside became really important.

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“But here the children could play with less supervision, knowing that there were always families in the community who would watch over them.”

Renee Bellavance, who has two children in North Haven in grades 2 and 4, agrees that a community is more vibrant and safer when children attend their community school.

“For those of us who choose to send our children to North Haven, we want to be part of the community, which means knowing that we can send our children to the streets and that there is always a family there. ‘they know.”

Parents have already raised nearly $150,000 to start the first phase of the Learning Grounds this summer, completing the amphitheater by fall, which will feature rectangular rocks that can seat 60 students in an outdoor classroom.

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Planting and gardens will also begin, Bellavance said, not just as learning opportunities for students, but for the whole community to enjoy.

North Haven Elementary School is listed as having low enrollment, which means it could be closed in the next few years.
North Haven Elementary School is listed as having low enrollment, which means it could be closed in the next few years. Photo by Azin Ghaffari /Postmedia

“We want to build a neighborhood that benefits students, but also benefits the whole neighborhood,” Bellavance said.

“Our community doesn’t have enough outdoor gathering spaces, so this is something anyone can use.”

Bellavance added that there are also many seniors in the community who would benefit from the outdoor space, pathways and shade it will provide.

Indigenous artwork will include woodcarvings of seven wolves made by students during a residency at the school with Indigenous artist Chance Bellegarde, one for each grade from kindergarten to grade 6.

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When completed, the project area will include approximately 5,250 square feet for outdoor learning spaces and approximately 90 meters of accessible pathway.

Last month, the CBE released its three-year student accommodation plan, which lists up to 46 schools as having low enrollment or less than 70% capacity. Many are inner-city schools, but a growing number are in outlying communities like North Haven, which is just east of Nose Hill Park.

CBE officials are working to balance enrollment under a new funding framework where the province provides operations and maintenance grants to schools that have 85% capacity or more.

“With 36 communities in active development in Calgary, we strive to provide all students with equitable access to quality learning environments and choice of programs and to use space and resources efficiently. is why CBE is actively pursuing solutions for North Haven School,” CBE said. spokesperson Megan Geyer.

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Even as the Northern Lights School occupied much of North Haven’s population, Geyer explained the new site was “requested and built based on the CBE’s School Capital Plan Criteria Ranking, which uses multiple socio-demographic factors to rank where schools are built and at what time”, allowing younger CBE students to attend the school closer to home.

While parents in North Haven hope the new learning grounds could help lift them off the CBE’s list of low-capacity schools, they know that not all communities have the time, resources or skills to advocacy to raise funds for unique projects.

Sheila Taylor, CEO of Parks Foundation Calgary, says her nonprofit is eager to help communities like North Haven build outdoor spaces like the Learning Grounds.

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“This space has been designed with such care for both students and the community, with features that will support learning, but also with accessibility features where people can gather and create a strong sense of community. .”

Taylor said the foundation provided $30,000 in funding to start the North Haven project.

But the nonprofit is also keen to support other communities that may not have North Haven’s strong advocacy.

“That’s what we’re here for, to work harder in communities in need, where they may not have such a strong volunteer base.

The Parks Foundation currently supports up to 100 outdoor projects with local sports groups, community associations and schools.

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