There's an extra amount of excitement and joy outside St. Louis School during recess and lunch now, as students explore their brand new outdoor learning environment. What was once sand and concrete has been transformed into a grassy field, an extended playground area and a water feature.
"I love the new playground. I love the grass because we had so little of it before, and to me, the growing grass is symbolic of the growth of our students and our school community. It doesn't matter what sport you're playing - soccer, tag, or keep-away - somehow the game is more fun when played on grass instead of gravel," said St. Louis School Principal, Maureen Frankcom. "We now have many places here where real learning for students can happen outside, and that's why these design elements were picked. You can sit with a class and do a literacy activity, have a sharing circle, or have an Arts lesson - things we couldn't do before. There are so many opportunities for us now. Other spaces that were empty are now usable as play and learning areas."
Students can be seen racing around the field, swinging on the monkey bars, exploring the stream that runs from the top corner of the side of the school under a bridge and around the portable, and even reading books in lawn chairs.
"Kids like the field the best because they're always playing in it and balancing on the wood," said Grade 5 student Madison Siemens. "I'm also really excited for them to put the disc swings in."
A brand new accessible swing structure was installed over the summer with the swings coming in the near future. Despite the lack of swings, students are already enjoying it.
The design also brought in natural elements that can be used as play structures such as large boulders and wood logs that children love to walk along. The whole idea was to create a more natural space where children can use their imagination to play.
"As a school, the students, parents and staff, we're all incredibly appreciative of what the board has done and given us. It's been a long time coming and a lot of work and planning from a lot of people. Ultimately the board has given us the gift of an incredible outdoor space," said Frankcom.
There's also a new stage that teachers can use as an outdoor classroom. The final element that will be installed is a large shade structure. Teachers will be able to use this area as another outdoor learning space.
The Kenora Catholic District School Board allocated $240,000 in the Capital Plan to upgrade the playground. After roughly five years of planning, construction began the day after students got out and finished before the first day of school.