The Campbell River Board of Education is pumping the brakes on its exploration of new outdoor education opportunities.
During the Sept. 8 virtual board meeting, Trustee Daryl Hagen had put forward a motion to consider setting aside $250,000 of an estimated $2-million to come from the federal government’s Safe Return to Class fund to set up an outdoor education resource.
But during the next virtual meeting on Sept. 29, Hagen reconsidered his motion after hearing a staff report delivered by Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Patrick.
According to the report, principals would prefer permanent outdoor structures, but safety and the possibility of loitering would need to be considered in choosing locations. Pop-up covers that could be easily moved were also supported by principals, as well as kits that could be used to support outdoor learning.
The Comox Valley School District is currently working with Muchalat Modular to come up with a proposal for pre-fabricated permanent structures with an estimated cost of $50,000 each.
In the report, Patrick notes that permanent outdoor structures require permits and approved drawings, as well as time to develop. Construction would be weather dependent and it could be late in the school year before the work is complete.
Patrick said the board should consider using the funds instead to cover sick-leave replacement costs.
“When we sat and we planned this, we had every good intention of proceeding with some of these requests from the board and some of these other initiatives,” he said. “I’m just kind of wondering with how short our TOC (teacher on call) lists were, we potentially could be doubling our sick replacement costs for this upcoming year and so it’ll have a pretty big impact.”
Hagen said that his intention with the motion was to find a way to decompress the classroom. He said that while he was open to withdrawing the motion, he did want the board to continue exploring outdoor education opportunities.
“Learning outdoors in our environment where we have the ocean, the mountains and everything around us here and the fact that we’re talking about global warming, it would bring us all closer to the land,” he said. “If we’re unprepared to move forward on this at this time, that’s fine. But I think we should give it really careful consideration that all our decisions are not around money.”
Trustee Joyce McMann said that while the idea of spending money on outdoor structures might be premature, she didn’t want to see the spark lit from Hagen’s initial motion get extinguished.
“The idea of nature-based education is very complex. It needs some time to chew on it to see how we want to invent those kind of principles or kind of visions within our strategic plan,” she said. “I would like to see those conversations start to percolate now. Rather than putting them off to another time. We may not find actions that we want to take immediately, but we need the ideas to start now.”
Superintendent Jeremy Morrow offered to have staff present a report to the board on some of the outdoor education opportunities currently taking place in the district like community gardens, forest schools and high school outdoor education electives.
“I think it would be exciting for the board to hear about some of those initiatives,” he said.
Board Chair Richard Franklin agreed, bringing up a bit of the district’s history when it comes to funding. He recalled a time when the district funded swimming lessons for all children in Grade 5. But in the early days of financial restraint, he said, it was the first to go.
“We’re surrounded by water, but our kids don’t get swimming lessons,” he said. “I would like to see an education system that really capitalizes on outdoor education and the wonderful natural environment that we have here.”
At the same time, Franklin acknowledged that there will be additional costs related to the pandemic this year and the board should support the senior management team in making financial decisions to get the district over the “COVID hump.”
“I’m really thinking that there will be additional costs to the board when people stay home and they’re sick,” he said. “But this year of all years, we need people to stay home when they’re sick.”
The motion was withdrawn and a staff report on current district outdoor education initiatives is forthcoming.
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