It used to be an outdoor place for tennis, a fenced-in spot long deprived of its nets and now partially hidden by untended-looking vegetation.
Recently, the site behind Ecole Shannon Park School, in Dartmouth, was transformed into something resembling an open-air seating area or classroom, a not-uncommon sight at schools in this age of the coronavirus pandemic.
On a sunny Saturday, at least 21 tree stumps suitable for students’ use were carefully placed inside the old tennis courts. Each appeared to be separated the same distance from the nearest stumps.
The stumps are a stone’s throw from the school, situated on Iroquois Drive.
The Halifax Regional Centre for Education’s website says Shannon Park School was built in 1952. It’s an elementary school that had 614 pupils enrolled in 2019.
According to the province’s back-to-school plan, outdoor lessons and breaks should be provided when possible. This includes “learning activities and meal times. Consider (the) need for appropriate clothing,” the plan says.
In the Halifax area, decisions about classes held outside are being made by school principals and teachers.
Doug Hadley, a spokesperson for the centre for education, said Wednesday that fresh-air instruction is not something the centre is collecting data on, but “we know from images being shared on social media and school websites that our teachers and administrators are being both creative and innovative for students to be learning outside, while adhering to public-health guidelines.”
Educators in Canada and elsewhere have used outdoor classes in the distant past – that is, when schools weren’t closed outright – for student safety, and to try to prevent the spread of disease. Archival photos from generations ago show bundled-up kids being taught outside during chilly weather.
Hadley said today’s teachers can consult a resource document “on how to take learning outside across the curriculum” in grades Primary to 8.
“Going outside for meals and mask breaks are also great opportunities that many schools are incorporating into their school day,” he told HalifaxToday.ca via email.
Outdoor classrooms are not new to every school in the Halifax region. Others were prepared years prior to the arrival of the pandemic, so students could learn about nature, the local environment and other things.
COVID-19 shut schools last March, the same month the provincial government declared a state of emergency. Classes for the 2020-21 academic year began Sept. 8.
Michael Lightstone is a freelance reporter living in Dartmouth