Case Study: RCE Tantramar and The Tantramar Family of Schools – Education for Sustainable Development through Outdoor Learning

Phase 1: Salem Elementary School, Sackville, NB

In 2013-14, RCE-Tantramar applied for and was awarded a Department of Environment Trust Fund grant to work in partnership with students, teachers and parents at Salem Elementary School in Sackville, NB. This grant was used to design and implement an outdoor environmental education program for the K-4 students, with the goals of providing hands-on learning opportunities, interdisciplinary activities from the approved curriculum, a greater student appreciation for the outdoors and nature, outdoor experiential learning activities, along with developing a schoolyard wildlife and marshland habitat and active learning space. In the first year of the project, RCE-Tantramar worked with Mount Allison University students and faculty, as well as the school Principal and teaching staff and the Home and School Committee, in the design of the ESD curriculum, the development of specific outdoor-based activities and project stations, as well as assisting teachers in the delivery of the curriculum-based program of learning.

This prototype environmental education program was supported by a number of community groups, including the Town of Sackville, Renaissance Sackville and the Rotary Club of Sackville . The engagement of an Outdoor Environmental Educator was an innovative and significant contribution to the success of the project. After one year, RCE Tantramar had developed a new Education for Sustainable Development teaching and research project where university environmental science students worked directly with teachers and their students, with funding coming from the larger community, rather than the Department of Education. Over the past years, this first major RCE Tantramar project has allowed hundreds of elementary and post-secondary students the opportunity of addressing ESD in an outdoor, school-based project. The initial investment in this project was just over $100,000 for materials and educational staffing. None of the funding came from the Dept, of Education or school operations funding.

Following the very successful development of the outdoor classroom in 2013-14, which included the construction of a wetland area, several outdoor classroom venues, such as a pirate ship classroom, various learning centres, raised gardens, energy demonstration units, trail system, forest habitat centre, etc., RCE Tantramar was able to secure another Environmental Trust Fund grant for 2015-16 and 2016-17 that allowed for the engagement of an Outdoor Education Coordinator. This was a key aspect of the success of this project, as it allowed teachers and students to have a full second year of implementation of the ESD curriculum working with the Coordinator available for direct facilitation, as well as professional learning for all school staff. Further, the university ESD project was enhanced to include two sections of ESD and internship and honours research projects with specific classes and teachers at the school. Finally, other schools in the region and across the province began to express significant interest in learning about this innovative approach to introducing education for sustainable development in their schools and communities, which lead to Phase Two of the project moving ahead at Marshview Middle School.

Phase II: Marshview Middle School, Sackville, NB

Based on the successful implementation of the Salem School project, RCE Tantramar commenced work in partnership with students, teachers and parents at Marshview Middle School, to design and implement an outdoor environmental education program for the Grade 5 to 8 students, with the goals of providing hands-on learning opportunities. This includes interdisciplinary activities from the approved curriculum, a greater student appreciation for the outdoors and nature, outdoor experiential learning activities, along with developing a school courtyard  active learning space for education for sustainable development, climate change awareness and the introduction of a recycling and waste auditing program, as well as a composting program. REC Tantramar was awarded an Environmental Trust Fund Grant of $25,000 for the project, with an additional $10,000 from Sackville Schools 20/20.

 In the first year of this program, Mount Allison University Environmental Studies faculty and students worked directly with the school in the design of the curriculum, the development of specific outdoor-based activities and project stations, as well as assisting teachers in the delivery of the curriculum-based program of learning. This wide-ranging program was developed under the leadership of the school principal and in partnership with the Sackville 20/20 community-supported education group and a new, curriculum-based experiential learning program known as Engage! The program has many different passion projects for learning associated with it, as part of a partnership with Mount Allison University students and faculty from the Research Partnership for Education and Community Engagement, founded in 2018.

Phase III: Dorchester Consolidated School, Dorchester, NB

The Dorchester Consolidated School Outdoor Environmental Education project was developed in 2018-2020 as a partnership between RCE Tantramar, the Mount Allison Geography and Environment Department (Dr. Michael Fox) and Dorchester Consolidated School (Mr. Gordie Kline). During the 2018-­‐2019 academic year, Laura Manuge worked with these partners in focusing her Honours Thesis research in Environmental Studies on the development of the outdoor environmental education project by working directly with teachers and students at the school. As a direct outcome of the work, RCE Tantramar applied for and was granted an $25,000 Environmental Trust Fund grant so that the plans for the outdoor space might actually be implemented. We were also supported in the curriculum development and instructional aspects of the program through a $10,000 grant from the Mount Allison Student Union Green Investment Fund. These awards have allowed for a critical third phase of the overall environmental education program and action plan that began at Salem Elementary School several years ago, yet our work is continuing and the students, teachers and larger Dorchester community continue to develop the overall environmental education and community action work that was stimulated by this grant. The Dorchester community, including the students, parents, teachers and principal have allowed us to implement their vision and strong community-­‐based support for critical action on climate change and environmental education through these grants – and they are greatly appreciated.

The overall goal of this environmental education project was to provide resources for the teaching staff at Dorchester Consolidated School to implement an outdoor environmental education program at the school. Since the awarding of the ETF, we have been able to accomplish this goal through the development of three primary projects that provide outdoor environmental teaching materials and facilities for teachers to have more opportunities to bring their students outside.

  1. Through a series of raised educational garden beds, as well as a designed and constructed processing and storage structure, children were able to plant seeds, maintain, harvest and then process and sell some of the products at a new school market that then allowed them to purchase more seeds, while using other products to learn about preparation, etc.
  2. Through an Outdoor Classroom, teachers can now bring their classes outside to increase students’ connectedness to nature while utilizing the ecosystems surrounding the school for hands-­‐on lessons. The design of this classroom is entirely based on input from educators and students at the school and based on the success of other existing outdoor classrooms in the area. As a critical outcome of this project: DCS had set an objective of spending 25% of class time outdoors by 2020. As of October 1, 2019, the students were actually spending 50% of their time in the outdoor space.
  3. We have been able to design and start the development of a trail system through the school property. By including students in the process, teachers are able to guide classes through lessons on the trail construction, the role of forests and wetlands in climate change and stability, and the students are already experiencing nature through the trails. The school hopes to eventually construct a natural playground along the trails, as interaction with nature and natural play are integral contributors to environmental awareness and appreciation. The Village of Dorchester and the Regional Service Commission have also been part of our planning to connect the school trail to the Indigenous Walking and Interpretive Trails at Fort Folly First Nation. These physical plans allow for the implementation of a meaningful curriculum that focuses on the United Nations Sustainability Goals, as well as the direct Human-­‐Environmental            interaction and a deeper understanding of the complexities of climate change. These are impressive results after just 6 months of the project. It should also be noted that Dorchester Consolidated School has become a designated United Nations Education and Scientific (UNESCO) Demonstration School, based on the development of this project.

RCE Impact on Education for Sustainable Development and the Tantramar Region on New Brunswick

This project has been designed to facilitate teacher-student-community interaction in developing a community-based approach to environmental education – going beyond the lack of specific provincial curriculum on education for sustainable development and working directly and intentionally with educators, schools, universities and the larger community to address the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development – in both formal and non-formal ways. RCE Tantramar, through our affiliation with the United Nations University/UNESCO RCE program, describes the role of education for sustainable development (ESD) as helping people “develop the attitudes, skills, and knowledge to make informed decisions for the benefit of themselves and others, now and for the future, and to act upon those decisions.” This is the very core of what we have accomplished in this project – going beyond the classroom and involving the larger community in the two-way street of education and action on sustainability, not just in our schools, but in the larger community and region.

These three phases represent a direct investment of over $350,000 in the three schools over the past seven years and the project builds on the successful design and implementation of the outdoor environmental education program. This is achieved by tapping into the community-based support we received for the project, which continues to focus on a broad, inclusive set of sustainability themes across the wider Sackville and Tantramar community, including such priority area themes as: Waste Management, Composting, Organic and Consumption Habits, Climate Change, Renewable Energy, Conservation, Biodiversity and Environmental Stewardship, as well as economic aspects of living sustainably. Each of these themes is intertwined in a program geared to facilitate action after teachers and students have engaged in a critical thinking exercise about the issues that they want to take on. Facilitation and cooperation by RCE Tantramar and the Department of Geography and Environment at Mount Allison University, as well as the towns and villages in the region, plus groups such as and the Rotary Club and local volunteer groups and business leaders, makes this an innovative and highly effective approach to environmental education and community action.

For more information:

Dr. Michael Fox

Department of Geography & Environment

Mount Allison University

Sackville, NB