Holyrood School Courtyard Classroom
Created October  7, 2011 by Stacey Drysdale
_Please see the short video above. It tells our story._
This is a grass roots project where we are encouraging people to move from “Me to We” through experiential learning. We are building community in very tangible ways.
In an age of video games, computers and fast food, it can be hard to get kids to play outside and to eat well. Many kids are disconnected from nature and their neighbourhoods. How can we improve both our quality of life and reduce our ecological footprint? How can we involve seniors and people with disabilities for our mutual benefit? When we looked at these issues collectively, where we live in our own neighbourhood, opportunities for change emerged.
The Holyrood Courtyard Classroom is part of a larger vision to build a caring and inclusive community beyond the school walls through the creation of interactive outdoor learning spaces. Holyrood School is a K-6 elementary school with 410 students. Our families come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Some families live in rental properties as well as low-income housing. Affordable housing is in the planning stage. The Holyrood School volunteer committee has steadily engaged community members and partners of all ages and abilities over the past 6 years through small project development and maintenance. We used limited grant money to leverage significant in-kind contributions of expertise, labour and materials.
We are now turning an old parking lot into a vibrant outdoor courtyard classroom. We have a seniors’ centre, extended care facility and group home for people with disabilities within wheeling and walking distance. All three groups were involved in the planning process so they would be able to enjoy the space too.
We are seeking Aviva funding to complete our master plan for the Courtyard Classroom. Our children’s ideas informed the concept drawings. The kindergarten kids who started this work are now in their final year in grade six. They chose the theme of Alberta’s past, present and future. We now have five raised beds for vegetables, native shrub and plant beds, small trees, log seating and a gravel pathway. Kids harvested and enjoyed the produce they grew. For some of our children, discovering a potato deep in the earth was like finding a hidden treasure.
The final phase includes sod, storage benches built by the seniors centre, cement foundations, three weather stations, a lush fern discovery fossil garden, additional barrier-free accessible pathways, more shade trees and larger seating spaces, a permanent tipi, six pillars of character, beautiful mosaic art to uplift others and winter garden features as well as permanent interpretive signs and programming. The courtyard classroom will be used year round as a living laboratory.
Once the landscaping is completed this year, maintenance costs will be minimal. The Courtyard Classroom Chair is a permanent position on the School Parent Council. School Council committed to maintaining a contingency fund for maintenance and repairs in the years ahead. The school also created a summer program called "Adopt the Garden" where families water and weed the garden throughout the summer. A founding partner, Holyrood Afterschool Care is also committed to helping us maintain the Courtyard Classroom over the summer months. Even families with children who have graduated continue to volunteer.
A man from the community home for people with disabilities attended our first planning meeting. The home manager told us that he had lived in the neighbourhood for 18 years and this was the first time he was invited to a community meeting. His perspective was invaluable.
When a child in grade one was hit by a vehicle and died, over 100 people helped to construct a mosaic bench at the front of our school to remember him by. We had also read that one of the simplest things we could do to make a neighbourhood age-friendly was to create seating. On the day we completed it, an elderly woman came out to sit on the bench with us. She had lived in the neighbourhood for over 50 years and rarely left her home.
2006 - Small demonstration garden installed; child-centered design; 2007 - School receives “Communities in Bloom” Award from the City of Edmonton; 2008 - Anti-idling campaign launched; 2009 - Mosaic Memory Bench Completed; Aging in Place Photovoice study with the Uof A; 2009 - Holyrood School Courtyard Classroom project initiated; 2010 - Winner Wednesdays initiated where each classroom tries to eat the most vegetables; 2010 - Holyrood School raises $17K for the CBC Turkey Drive; 2011 - As of December 19, we raised $22,350 for the CBC Turkey Drive.
Partners and Supporters include: Evergreen Canada; Sherri Shorten Architect (parent volunteer); Holyrood Afterschool Care, Playschool and Community League; SEESA; Holyrood Community Home for people with disabilities; 72nd Strathern Scouts; Church of God; Holyrood Long Term Care Facility