Seiji Russell

South Surrey nature school a first for district

A heritage South Surrey school is gearing up to become the first in Surrey to operate as an outdoor-learning centre.

A heritage South Surrey school is gearing up to become the first in Surrey to operate as an outdoor-learning centre.

East Kensington Elementary principal Jennifer Tarnowski said the move to a nature-based program – announced by the district last week – is under development, and will be in place for next September.

Declining enrolment at the school, which currently has fewer than 40 students enrolled in kindergarten to Grade 6, and just one student in the oldest group, opened the door to implementing the EKOLogy (East Kensington Outdoor Learning) program.

Jennifer TarnowskiTarnowski said the new direction also fills a gap, by formalizing a program that has seen success in other districts – including at Dr. Thomas A. Swift Elementary in Abbotsford, where “nature kindergarten” programs launched in 2015.

“For being the largest (district) in the province, it’s time,” she said. “And we have the space to do it.”

Tarnowski, who took the helm in July, said she considered the building, geographic siting and students when suggesting the program.

Located at 2795 184 St., East Kensington sits on a large rural property with a ravine and creek, and is a few kilometres from Redwood Park, A Rocha, Semiahmoo Fish & Game Club and Hazelmere. Students will learn and explore on the traditional territories of the Katzie, Kwantlen, Semiahmoo and Qayqayt First Nations.

It’s “a natural place to explore curriculum,” the principal said.

Consultation with other districts is underway, and Tarnowski plans to spend a morning at Dr. Thomas Swift Elementary next week to observe how the program is run there.

Monday afternoon, she led an impromptu outdoor lesson with Grade 2 students Joshua Worfolk, Seiji Russell, Hailey Miller and Kaitlyn Querques, examining leaves for similarities and differences.

The students set to the task with gusto, showing not even a wisp of concern over the rain that was threatening to dampen their experience.

Their enthusiasm for nature was not a surprise to Tarnowski. She said she’s seen it firsthand many times before.

“They’re just so eager to engage in being outside… that natural curiosity is there,” she said.

“Providing a nature-based program is an opportunity to channel that passion… and build on it.”

While logistics are still being worked out –  including the number of teachers needed – Tarnowski expects the amount of time students will spend learning outdoors to average two to three hours per day, rain or shine.

She described the program’s implementation as a shift that “needs to be really well-thought-out.”

A community forum to discuss that shift, and particularly, why the decision was made, takes place tomorrow tonight (Wednesday) at the school.

Anyone interested is welcome to attend; it begins at 6:30 p.m.

Tarnowski said a second meeting is to be held later this month at the Surrey School District Education Centre. That date has not yet been set.

Registration for the EKOLogy program is to get underway in January. Admission is first-come, first-served basis, and the program is open to students both in and out of catchment.

For more information, call the school at 604-541-1257, or visit www.surreyschools.ca/schools/eastkensington

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