Plans for an outdoor school in South Canoe continue to move forward, as a report from the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District is recommending the reopening of the closed school with an outdoor learning program in September 2018.
The recommendation is for the school to be opened as a K-Grade 6 model, with the possibility of adding a grade in subsequent years to eventually become a K-Grade 8 school.
It is thought this would help alleviate enrolment pressures on Bastion, Hillcrest, South Broadview and Ranchero elementary schools, while eventually helping to reduce student numbers at Shuswap Middle School.
The final decision on the outdoor school proposal rests with official trustee Mike McKay and the issue will be discussed at the next regular school board meeting on Dec. 19 at the District Education Support Centre.
If McKay opts for staff’s recommendation, there are already 88 K-Grade 6 students whose parents have signed intent-to-register forms for the outdoor program. Students from across the school district would be welcome to register, as with French immersion. However, parents are responsible for transporting their children to the school.
There has been considerable support from teachers and parents for developing an outdoor school program in the district, with more than 125 parents attending an interest meeting.
‘Teachers in existing school-based and district-wide Outdoor Learning programs report a high level of student engagement. Outdoor learning programs also seem to support student academic success and student social development and emotional regulation. Substantial peer-reviewed research corroborates observations of outcomes and success stories from our school district,” states the report from Carl Cooper, director of instruction.
Other options considered by the school district are keeping the South Canoe school closed and adding portables to address space shortages at other schools, redrawing the catchment boundaries to open South Canoe as either a K-5 or K-8 conventional school or reopen South Canoe as a dual-track school with both conventional and outdoor learning programs running concurrently to maximize space usage at the school. Other options include creating the outdoor learning program in different forms, including K-Grade 5, K-Grade 6 or K-Grade 8.
Going with an outdoor learning program would also alleviate concerns about redrawing the school catchment areas, as this could force students to attend different schools than they already do based on their address.
“Opening the school as a program of choice provides opportunities to support the growth of Outdoor Learning and meet a community desire. Considering the other alternatives available, options that do not displace students from their existing catchment schools should receive primary consideration to resolve the space issues. Installing portable classrooms would provide a temporary solution to the continued enrolment projections at these schools, but are costly and can create additional challenges at schools…” says the report.
South Canoe was identified as an ideal choice for the outdoor program as it is located in a more rural area of Salmon Arm, within walking distance of ponds, a city park and a large trail system.