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Rockheights students discover nature

From left, Nathaneal Laranjeiras, Nila McLachlan and Kevin Le, Rockheights Middle School students, discovering nature as part of their project-based learning in nearby Highrock Park. - Frances Litman photo
From left, Nathaneal Laranjeiras, Nila McLachlan and Kevin Le, Rockheights Middle School students, discovering nature as part of their project-based learning in nearby Highrock Park.
— image credit: Frances Litman photo

Kids at Rockheights Middle School stepped out of the classroom and into nature as part of a collaborative environmental project.

Now, that project has been made into a book, which the students recently presented to the Township of Esquimalt, the Greater Victoria Public Library and Esquimalt Parks and Recreation to become part of the Esquimalt archives.

When Frances Litman, founder of Creatively United for the Planet Society, heard that Rockheights Middle School did not have a recycling program, she inquired about partnering with the school to teach kids about appreciating the environment.

“I'm really trying to expand the whole environmental awareness campaign and rebrand environmentalism so people can look at the environment with love and joy rather than branding it as something that we're separate from,” said Litman.

Creatively United for the Planet Society was formed in 2010.

“Our mission is creative environmental education and community connection for environmental protection.”

David Futter, Liana Ruffolo and Beth Mann, Grade 6 and 7 teachers at Rockheights, created a project-based learning lesson plan based on studying the nearby Garry Oak ecosystem at Highrock Park.

“They took a look at [the park] through the lens of science and social studies and language arts,” said Rockheights Middle School principal Maryanne Trofimuk. “It was great to have the kids outside in nature.”

Litman, a professional photographer, along with a videographer and an artist, went with the kids to the park and documented their learning. The kids were also given the opportunity to take their own photos and videos and make their own drawings.

The hardcover illustrated book, Stepping into Nature, documents the seven month project, featuring professional photos and drawings as well as the students' work. Short stories also accompany the photos, outlining what the students learned about the ecosystem.

“[The kids] wrote about what they park meant to them, what they learned from going up there [and] how nature impacts them,” said Litman. “We're really trying to make sure that kids are aware that the ecosystem is precious, it's fragile [and] we have to take care of it.”

The project was so successful that the Grade 6 teachers are working on a plan to continue it in the future, said Trofimuk.

“The number one benefit is just the knowledge of their place on the planet and how they can make a difference in enduring that these sacred places like our neighbouring Garry Oak can be honoured and preserved,” said Trofimuk, adding that the school is also celebrating the one-year anniversary of its recycling and composting program.

“That was all tied in, because getting kids to understand why they should recycle, when they have no concept of how garbage or their actions impact the environment, is huge,” said Litman.

 

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