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Meera, Joanne, Aleesha, Isabelle, Sarah, Rhonda & James' Story

Updated: Jun 18, 2022

2022 Runner Up for Natural Curiosity's National Edward Burtynsky Award for Teaching Excellence in Environmental Education

The Glenlyon Norfolk School community lives, works, learns and plays on the territories of the Lekwungen and WSÁNEĆ Peoples.

At Glenlyon Norfolk School, Joanne Dunn, Meera Bandechha, Aleesha Bird, and Isabelle Tang (Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten) and Sarah Wallace and Rhonda Stark (Grade 5) propel the thought and practice underlying the school community's commitment to environmental inquiry. These teachers, along with Indigenous Educator James Taylor, work together to provide environmental inquiry year round that is interest-led, place-based, experiential, and connected to the seasonal rounds.

This team of educators was instrumental in the establishment of the Glenlyon Norfolk JK-K Nature School alongside a variety of projects: two Honey Bee Hives, Mason Bees, a School Garden Plot and three separate pollinator gardens, vermiculture bins, and a Beach Bee Club where products have been made, packaged and sold for funding. Their programming has enhanced the collective knowledge of the school community and engages students in activities that stimulate their curiosity about the natural world while teaching basic environmental, natural science principles, and integrating Indigenous ways of knowing and learning throughout.

Seven individuals wear beekeeping uniforms and stand outside around a box with bee hives inside. One of the individuals is using a tool to reach into the bee hives while the others watch intently.

At Nature School, Meera, Joanne, Aleesha, and Isabelle come up with a lesson plan, but that may get put aside as the students are engaged in outdoor play or want to learn about something that comes up. The teachers believe in the importance of unstructured play that does not get interrupted as the students and teachers appreciate and value the importance of an emergent curriculum. The program encourages children to learn through direct experience and often, activities flow from what nature presents us with. The children create magical gardens, build dams, make waterfalls and power stations, make pulleys, build nature swings, explore sink and float, and create art with and of nature. This environmental inquiry learning is imprinted early on and these teachings are carried over throughout the next four years.

Fostering a love of the land is a priority at the Nature School. Conversations around leaving the world better than we found it are at the core of the teachings, as is the fostering of love of the land. Students learn about the many benefits of the variety of plants and trees on the land and within an ecosystem. Students are engaged in discussions about the importance of all the living things while hiking and how everything contributes to the health and wellbeing of the environment as a whole.

An adult in a yellow beanie and a maroon coat is crouched on the soil plant, looking down and pointing towards the soil. Six to seven students are gathered around the teacher. There is a blond child kneeling and wearing a blue coat with an animal print and pink mittens and boots with blue pants. There is another child crouched down wearing a brown knit hat and a blue raincoat with light-coloured dots. The other child kneeling is wearing a pink hat and coat and carrying branches.

In Grade 5, the students become the leaders. Sarah and Rhonda provide further environmental inquiry teaching by delving into topics such as vermiculture, bee keeping, pollinator gardens, and an awareness of the connections and relationships of all things. The students tend bee hives, care for mason bees and garden plots with Sarah and Rhonda. Local animal life cycles such as the eagle, deer, and salmon are studied. Bowker Creek waterway is explored and seasonal changes are observed and documented. Co-existing cultural perspectives are discussed and students are encouraged to ask questions: "What local issues or opportunities can we inquire into to help us to have a better understanding of the world we live in?" Students inquire about the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities; societal decision-making and economic activities and their impact on humankind and the environment; the rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share in finite resources with other people and with other living things; and communities and the relationships within and between them. Experts are brought in, field trips are taken, and research using print and online resources occurs. Topics are discussed, debated, and further researched, resulting in an understanding of perspectives and interconnectedness with the environment. Recently, the Grade 5 students guided a packed municipal council chamber through a presentation about the increased use of single-use plastics and its effects on nature. Councillor Tara Ney said, “I don’t know if we would have moved this forward had it not been for these young people who prompted us to get on with the task.”(Victoria News, Jan. 29, 2019).

The Grade 5 students collaborate with the younger grades to dig and plant. Together, they prepare for the spring by making newspaper plant pots, sprout seeds, prepare their worm compost and tend to the garden plots. The older students peer teach and share what they know with the ‘littles’. Questions are asked, topics explored and answers discovered. Recently, the Nature School students were awed to find the meadows bursting with wildflowers this past week. One was heard telling a friend that it was, “So beautiful, it looks like a painting. Can you believe this is real? Let’s just sit here and look at it.”

Teachings are woven throughout with guidance from Indigenous Educator, James Taylor. James Taylor takes the students outside, drums, and shares Indigenous teachings about the local area, animals, and plants. He makes connections such as showing the students a herbal healing mixture made out of natural products (e.g. cedar, sage, etc) and speaks about the ingredients.

James Taylor stands holding a drum and wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. James Taylor is speaking to a circle of students. Beside James Taylor, there is a student in black shorts and a pink puffy jacket who is standing on one foot. On the other side of James Taylor, there is a line of students who are looking at James Taylor or down at the ground. James Taylor and the students are in a clearing in a field of grass.

School for the students of Glenlyon Norfolk is not just outdoor education. It is not just environmental education, nor is it just play. It is a unique combination of all three. It is about discovery. Having an opportunity to get students out into nature has amazing benefits. The Glenlyon Norfolk teachers share that they watch the children’s confidence and understanding of the world around them grow daily. They develop a love for the outdoors and how their bodies move in space and learn about nature, the seasons, weather, and many more things. As the students move up through the grades, the deep dive inquiry into environmental topics connect to their own experiences, in their own community, and further afield. Inquiry into bees and pollination, the effects of rainfall and flooding on Bowker Creek and salmon populations, a visit to the local landfill and where garbage goes, planting and tending a garden to explore where food comes from all add a rich component to the emergent curriculum. Just as nature connects and collaborates, so do these exceptional educators at Glenlyon Norfolk Junior School.

And from the words of their students, “ Nature is our best teacher! “

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