Howard Park Public School takes the lesson outdoors

It started out as a scribble on a piece of paper.

A garden at Howard Park Public School in Toronto in the shape of a footprint to symbolize the ecological impact of our daily actions.  

Enter some dedicated parents, teachers and students and vital grants from organizations like the Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds program and voila! What was etched out on a napkin becomes a permanent learning garden and outdoor classroom.
Evergreen’s National Program Director, Cam Collyer along with Sandy Di Felice, Director at Toyota Canada and Paul Shaw, Dealer Principal at the local Ken Shaw Toyota dealership, recently celebrated Howard Park school’s achievement by paying a visit and helping plant some vegetables and native plants in the new school ground.  
We recently caught up with Cam to get his take on the afternoon’s events. 
EG: What are the secret ingredients to greening a school ground? 
CC. It’s not one thing, but it is inevitably the product of many caring hands. Here you have this barren asphalt creatively transformed by teachers, students, parents and partners like Toyota Canada and its dealerships through the Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds program, the Backyard Urban Farm Company and many others. That support -  combined with sweat, determination, patience, enthusiasm, and expertise - have helped to bring  it all together. 
EG: What exactly is an outdoor classroom?  
CC: I’d like to think that we’re not just transforming a school ground but that we’re transforming the way things are learned and taught. Take a flower for example. It can be used as a teaching instrument in science curriculum, an art class, even in a history lesson. 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban centres, making it even more important in this day and age to connect with nature. Now the school has a hands-on example on how to grow vegetables, conserve water, learn about composting, all that stuff, that the kids enthusiastically engage in. They think it’s fun to learn that the worm has the final say in everything. 
EG: And what about the corporation in the classroom? Vending machines are unbranded nowadays.

CC: This is a complex issue. There’s both where the support comes from and how it comes. Corporations are part of the fabric of the community and many are eager to provide support. Corporate employees are eager to pitch in and help. They have kids that go to these schools. So if there are shared goals, the project remains community driven and the recognition is appropriate for the setting, then I think there is adequate room for corporate support of school initiatives. Without them, we’d be worse off. For example, through the Toyota Evergreen Learning Grounds program, which has been proudly supported by Toyota Canada and its dealerships throughout the 10 years of our partnership, more than 814,000 students at 1,600 schools across Canada have received support to green their school grounds. In 2009, with Toyota, we disbursed $220,000 to 140 schools. That has a great impact. 
EG: What’s next?
CC: From a learning perspective, it’s children enjoying and understanding nature. For Evergreen, the demand only continues to grow right across the country. And many school boards are beginning to structure themselves to better support the play and learning value of the their school grounds. We’re building our program to support both individual school efforts and the institutional approach of school boards. At this time of year, it’s benefit enough to be out enjoying the garden and green space.

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