What happens when your classroom is a wetland?
For two Rivers Collegiate students, the answer is: it’s transformative.
The pair had been drifting through their academics at the secondary school in the small town of Rivers, Man. One student was at risk of failing.
“They were disengaged from their school work,” says Rivers Collegiate principal Mike Klassen, noting traditional classroom settings and curriculum didn’t connect with them.
That changed in Grade 12 when the students enrolled in the high school’s wetland management program. The two spent hours after school working at a nearby wetland. At the end of the semester, they presented a project to teachers that outlined a plan to eradicate invasive plant species at the wetland, and sow native plants.
The students pitched their plan to local politicians and administrators. Their efforts paid off, and they secured funding for their project.
“It was amazing – they just latched on to the program,” says Klassen.
The wetland site that helped transform these students has itself been transformed. Four years ago, the school undertook an ambitious reclamation project at an abandoned CN Rail gravel pit, on a 60-acre (24-hectare) parcel of property donated to the school by the Town of Rivers. The site is located a kilometre from the school’s front door.
With help and funding from DUC, which made an initial donation of $5,000, and other project partners, the reclamation process included the construction of a man-made wetland out of a gravel pit. Students dedicated shop classes to building floating docks and a boardwalk for the wetland. Computer classes became an opportunity to design an outdoor shelter for the site.
Today, Rivers Wetland Learning Centre of Excellence is a learning space for Rivers Collegiate students, and plays a starring role in some new courses developed by the school; like wetland management, outdoor education, and wind and solar energy courses.
Klassen says taking studies outside flips typical classroom dynamics on their head.
“What we’ve noticed is that the ‘fringe’ kids, the ones that maybe have trouble at home, or who are excluded from other groups, often spend a lot of time outdoors. And at the wetland, they become the leaders,” says Klassen.
The role reversal isn’t just changing how classmates see each other. It’s also giving teachers an opportunity to see students in a new way.
“Some of our less engaged kids are becoming leaders too,” says Klassen. “And when they come back to a regular classroom there’s a different relationship between the student and teacher. The teacher sees the student in a different light,” he says.