Case Study: The Meadowlands Garden
Meadowlands Public School and its surrounding community are located in a suburban area of Ottawa developed in the 1950s. Our catchment area extends beyond the tree lined streets of this suburb. The north end of the school boundaries is where the majority of the students live and the south end of the boundaries includes an area adjacent to the Greenbelt Experimental Farm and the Pinhey Sand Dunes. It is an elementary school with early French immersion and English programs, serving a multicultural population of approximately 440 students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, with many First Nation students attending the school as well.
Despite the green spaces in the community and our large school grounds, our students experience inequity in terms of access to nature and wild spaces where they can engage in free, nature-based play. To address this deficit, for the past three years we have been working on reshaping our school grounds so that our students at would have daily access to active, self-directed play in nature and outdoors.
We have been working with community members, parents, students and teachers, School Council, OCDSB Facilities, the City of Ottawa, Evergreen to develop a multi-year, sustainable plan for greening our school grounds and creating areas where students can learn and play in nature.
First, we conducted an assessment of possible assets which already existed on our school grounds, a process known as “Asset Mapping” with students from our Roots and Shoots Club. We identified the secret garden beside the front entrance of the school and the maple grove on the south-east section of the yard as possible places which would offer opportunities for nature-based learning and play.
Then, we consulted with students. Working in small groups, all students were invited to answer the question: “What do you want to do at recess?” After a brainstorming session, they were invited to use loose parts, such as yarn, blocks, small sticks and pebbles, and a map of the school grounds to create their ideal school ground.
Some of the things we heard that students wanted are as follows:
"Spaces for Play and Quiet Rest!"
We found the students wanted places to play man-hunt and to hide-out. There were also requests for quiet nooks and shade.
After hearing from the students, we all worked with the City of Ottawa Forestry Department. We did a walking tour of the school grounds and determined the best location and species of trees for Meadowlands. We developed a watering plan with the students and staff, and also with the chief custodian and interested parents to make sure our new trees would survive the summer.
"More Birds and Butterflies!"
The students were very clear about this. They wanted more wildlife on their school grounds! So we submitted a grant application through the City of Ottawa to increase biodiversity on our yard. We planned a Songbird Garden using native grasses and plants (100 meters along the western fence), a Butterfly Garden using native shrubs and plants (along the split log fence to the North of the school grounds) and a no-mow Meadow Garden (along the fence to the east between the parking lot and play yard).
"More Natural Play Spaces!"
After attending the Evergreen School Ground Greening Workshops during the 2014-2015 school year, we worked with Evergreen designer Jeff Kaster, Dan Fournier from OCDSB Facilities and our school community to design a naturalized play yard for the JK and SK students. Meadowlands PS received a $25,000 grant from the school board in addition to funds raised by our School Council to pay for the capital costs associated with building a naturalized play yard. The project is breaking ground in Summer 2017. For now, we are maximizing the space and have made it greener by adding 6 livestock troughs as planters and a vegetable garden.
"More seating areas!"
Our students are always looking to the future, and their suggestions is something that all students can enjoy, seating areas for learning and for just hanging out. We are hoping to install seating boulders large yard to create conversation areas, where students can enjoy the shade or work on projects outside.
*For support in your tree planting efforts, check out the City of Ottawa Tree Planting Program: Schoolyard Tree Planting
*For support in your efforts to increase biodiversity, check out the City of Ottawa Biodiversity Grant Community Environmental Project Grant Program