It wasn’t a hard decision for McMurray Métis to donate two outdoor classrooms to the Fort McMurray Catholic Schools and Fort McMurray Public School Division.
At a board meeting in January the idea was prompted by a desire to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic and give the opportunity for students to study outdoors. On Wednesday at Father Beauregard School and Dr. K.A. Clark Elementary School the classrooms were handed over as part of Orange Shirt Day ceremonies at both locations.
McMurray Métis vice president Kelly Myers said it was significant the event was happening on Orange Shirt Day and a day before the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Orange Shirt Day is traditionally held on Sept. 30 at Canadian schools as a commitment to reconciliation and to create a dialogue about the legacy of residential schools. Both schools will be closed for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“It’s more than just wearing an orange shirt,” said Myers. “It’s about learning why we are wearing orange shirts and what it represents. It speaks volumes that it lined up this week and we look forward to being invited back.”
The donations are valued at a total of $50,000 and include all-weather tents, podiums, heaters and benches. Designed to provide students with an opportunity to learn land-based education programming outdoors, Myers believes they were also a sign of cooperation between the community and the respective school boards.
“Youth is a big focus for McMurray Métis,” said Myers. “We actually have it in our strategic plan to help educate and develop youth. They are our future leaders and we hope we can provide them with land-based learning opportunities and find heritage. Not just Indigenous heritage, but it’s about finding out where you are from.”
At Dr. K.A. Clark Elementary School the classroom was set up beside the community garden. The school also features an Indigenous healing garden where students can learn about traditional uses of the plants. Principal Mark Dolmont said that the legacies of residential schools have also been incorporated into lesson plans.
“I would say it has dramatically improved in the past few years,” said Dolmont. “Just watching the activities that our teachers do it has become fully ingrained in everything we do. Having the exposure to some of the atrocities of the past, letting the kids know this did happen and making sure we don’t make the same mistakes of the past.”
At Father Beauregard School the plan is to use the classroom for land-based learning activities for all ages from four to 12. Vice principal Eithne Pierre said that as soon as the idea was proposed there was a lot of excitement about the opportunity for their students to study outdoors.
“We were really in the thick of the pandemic at the time,” said Pierre. “It was a very easy conversation to have with McMurray Métis and it’s a really natural tie-in to bring this in with land-based learning.”
Scott McLean, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today