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West Vancouver school PAC responds to COVID-19 with outdoor classroom push

Rockridge parents are hoping to raise $60,000
Rockridge outdoor classroom site
Rockridge Secondary PAC member Diana Steele shows a rendering of the proposed outdoor classroom while standing at the West Vancouver school site. photo Paul McGrath, North Shore News
In response to the ongoing pandemic, a West Vancouver school PAC is accelerating its timeline to get an outdoor learning space built with the hope of offering students and teachers a bit more breathing room.

Rockridge Secondary’s parent advisory council had started an initiative last year to build an outdoor classroom adjacent to the front office, flanked by trees and with an inspiring view of the ocean.

But when COVID-19 hit earlier this year and schools closed down that dream was paused, said PAC member Diana Steele, who’s heading up the committee’s outdoor classroom project.

“We had to stop everything,” said Steele. “We definitely need more space for student learning.”

With in-classroom education having started up again this past fall, the PAC has reignited its $60,000 fundraising campaign to get the outdoor classroom built, an addition to the school they say is needed now more than ever during COVID-19.

“The risk of transmitting COVID is much lower when you’re outside,” said Steele. “It would be nice to have an additional space where they would be allowed to social distance, wear their masks, but have another place that’s outdoors where they can meet.”

The land has been surveyed, the geotechnical reports have been filed and an architect has come up with a design for the outdoor space, said Steele, who added that the covered space would feature a slanted roof to allow for ample views of Howe Sound and lots of natural light.

“Our principal has been super supportive,” said Steele. “We have a few teachers that are part of our group that are helping to push this along. … They can’t wait to have another space to go to, just to change the environment of the classroom.”

While the PAC has already raised more than $17,000 for the project, they need to raise the full amount before the District of West Vancouver will grant building permits.

Ideally, said Steele, they would break ground on the project in early spring.

While touting the benefits of outdoor classrooms for reducing student stress and anxiety, as well as boosting focus and inspiring young minds, Steele said the pandemic has only heightened the need for these kinds of diverse learning options.

“We need it now – we needed it yesterday,” she said.

In the North Vancouver School District, Sherwood Park Elementary’s PAC recently held a holiday gift box fundraiser, with partial funds earmarked for its own outdoor classroom project.

The school district “values the opportunity to promote learning activities beyond the conventional classroom and school buildings,” said Conor McMullan, the school district’s director of educational programs. “The board, in planning for new and/or replacement schools, recognizes the value of outdoor learning spaces and will consider building features and enhancements to the school site that support outdoor learning.”

The West Vancouver school district, along with the municipality, have been supportive of Rockridge PAC’s project, said Steele.

The PAC is hoping families of current and former students, alumni and generous community members will donate to the project.

Contribute to Rockridge’s outdoor classroom through the SchoolCashOnline page.

For more information, email the PAC.