News Local

Rockwood outdoor class opened

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

LAURENTIAN VALLEY TWP. - Sometimes, outdoors is better.

Wednesday was a big day for Rockwood Public School, as it celebrated the completion of its outdoor classroom.

Friends, parents, staff, Renfrew County District School Board (RCDSB) officials and volunteers gathered with the student body to mark the occasion with a ceremonial tree planting. This classroom was made possible with $5,000 in funding from Toyota-Evergreen Learning Grounds, a national program that helps create inviting, dynamic school grounds with diverse natural features, with an extra top-up from Petawawa Toyota’s Mike Douglas, made on behalf of Brenda and Jimmy Lapointe.

School principal Terry Burwell said a series of native trees planted around the outdoor classroom seating area will provide shade for them, as well as many learning experiences for the students. For example, he said they have picked three different species of native trees, which turn three different colours in the fall, and have different shapes and sizes of leaves.

One of the trees was dedicated to the memory of Zachary Lapointe, Brenda and Jimmy’s beloved son.

Lee Ann Plummer, one of the teachers and co-ordinators of the outdoor education project, said she felt very honoured to be able to recognize Zachary, who lived life to its fullest.

“This tree represents his love of life and adventure,” she said. Moments later, Jimmy Lapointe shoveled a wad of compost on the tree’s base.

The classroom is the first phase in the development of the Rockwood outdoor education space known as The Swamp, a forested wetland located near the back end of the school property.

Burwell said the project began many years ago with an interest from Lizanne Lacelle, a previous teacher at Rockwood Public School, who had a dream of connecting teachers and students at Rockwood to nature, using the outdoor swamp space for education.

Current teachers, Lisa Seegmiller, Lee Ann Plummer and Kathy Frederick have continued this idea and, in the winter of 2015, they partnered with Algonquin College students from various programs such as Forestry Technician, Environmental Technician, Outdoor Adventure, Outdoor Adventure Naturalist, Nursing, and Early Childhood Education, to develop a design for an outdoor education space using The Swamp as the focus.

Rockwood Public School students were consulted during the development of the design. Over the past year fundraising was successful, and a committee of parents, grandparents, teachers, and students – The Swamp Committee - has come together to oversee the project to make the dream become a reality.

Sue McKee, a former Pembroke and Deep River resident and now an environmental research associate at Ottawa University, is a long time volunteer with Let’s Talk Science, an award-winning, national, charitable organization focused on education and outreach to support youth development. She also has two grandchildren attending Rockwood and is a member of the Swamp Committee, working to raise money to develop the school’s outdoor classroom. She, along with Seegmiller, Fredericks and Plummer, have been working with others to develop the swamp into an interactive learning facility.

“I hope you all use this classroom,” she said, noting while many of the younger grades seem to be getting the most use out of it, encouraged teachers in all grades at Rockwood to take advantage of this asset.

“We need to connect our children to nature,” McKee said, “and where better than in your backyard?”

Dave Shields, RCDSB chairman, said he is certain other schools in places like Toronto would be green with envy if they knew what Rockwood Public School has on its own grounds.

“This is our little Shaw Woods,” he said, referring to the popular and successful Shaw Woods Outdoor Education Centre. “I am so pleased the staff here has made use of this.”

Future plans for the outdoor education space include adding a wooden boardwalk through the wetter part of The Swamp, and further expansion of the classroom area.

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