doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

Praise for older schools

Last Friday, one of the blog posts that I shared because I enjoy it came from Anne-Marie Kee. She had a “Focus on Trees” as her topic. It has stuck with me since I read it.

In the post, she took us for a virtual walk through of her school setting and the heritage that was attributed to the various trees on the property.

The post took me back to the high school I attended as a teenager. It was actually a building built in two stages. The first stage was really old and had significant older trees on the property. The new stage had nothing at the time I went there although a recent trip through there showed some nice trees growing.

The first school I taught at was relatively new. Like so many new builds, it looked like the after math of a bulldozer going through levelling everything and then building the school. I can remember Student Parliament running a fundraiser, a planting session ensued and now there are at least some trees there. It’s really apparent that they were planted as an afterthought as they’re all in a row, equidistant from each other. They’re planted a fair distance from the school but, in the spring, you do see the odd class or other group of students gathering around enjoying the shade.

This summer, my dog and I, had a distraction as we walked past an elementary school during our morning routine. In front of the school, there was a fenced in area for younger students with a sidewalk around the perimeter and an area that would have been a lawn in another context. But, here, it was an area for the kids to play/learn. There was an old tree trunk lying on the ground which appeared to be a great place to play. It was well worn; the bark was long gone, and it was nicely smooth from being walked/climbed on. Kids can see things at times that we adults miss.

Over the summer, while there were no children around, trucks moved in. The entire inside was dug down a bit and eventually filled up with dirt. Jaimie and I walked by daily and speculated that it might eventually be sodded. Or maybe seeded. Or maybe someone had won the lottery and it was going to be artificial turf. While we never went in, Jaimie was hoping to see the tree trunk remain.

Yes, the story didn’t end that way. It ended up being paved.

Now, I get the convenience of it. No grass to cut; no mud to worry about when it rains; no inside recesses – the list goes on. Sadly, the tree trunk was a casualty as well. In its place, you’ll now find a great place to ride a tricycle. And, it’s maintenance free. Since it’s unshaded and uncovered, it’s going to be pretty hot next spring.

It’s going to be good for certain elements of play but there will be learning opportunities lost. I’m guessing that there might be a bit of nature in the form of earthworms after it rains but that’s probably about it. I can’t help but think that the historical significance that Anne-Marie mentions in her post is a non-starter here.

I think we all know of the benefits of modernization of older buildings or of building new schools. But, I really think we’re missing a great deal when paving over what nature has so generously given us.

My guess is that, if students were asked for input, they’d want the best of both worlds. There is a great deal of discussion about classroom arrangement and design. That’s important and not to be minimalized here. I would just hope that planners consider the entire package.


4 responses to “Praise for older schools”

  1. Doug, your post reminds me of the fallen tree at my last school. A tree came down in a bad thunderstorm. It bordered the junior field of the school. The principal was going to have it removed, but a kindergarten teacher wrote a convincing note with her class on why it keep it there. This fallen tree was one of my favourite memories of the school. So much learning happened here, and it would make me sad to think of it being removed:

    The same holds true for the mud. I know that it’s a pain, and on wet days, my teaching partner, Paula, and I along with our kids do a lot of sweeping and washing in the classroom. Nothing though is better than mud for learning! It’s the ultimate sensory experience. Kids have made rivers, noticed shapes, letters, and pictures in the mud, experimented with floating and sinking, and engaged in amazing design projects here. And without the mud, we would never find as many worms and snails (or require notes like this one): I feel fortunate to have worked in old and new schools where the value in nature for kids is recognized and supported!



  2. The high school I attended will be 100 years old in 2022. From the outside it looks pretty much the same as when I attended (I graduated in 1971). I haven’t been inside in a bunch of years but when I was there was a mix of old and new. The halls looked the same but the insides of the rooms were different. There was never any green around except for the pak across the street. A lot of changes there including a football field which we didn’t have.

    One of the first schools I taught at my first year of teaching is closing at the end of this school year after 110 years of operation. It’s pretty sad. I wonder what will happen to the building.


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