An Okotoks teacher is taking hands-on learning to a new level.
Alexandra Szuromi, an educator of more than 30 years who teaches Grade 3 at Dr. Morris Gibson School, has found a way to educate her students about the risks of flooding, pollination, life cycles and more, all the while providing a rather interactive experience.
"It's interesting how many of them haven't been in a garden, haven't got their hands dirty," she said. "And they're quite alarmed by the ants and so we've been hearing a lot of shrieks."
It all began back in December when Szuromi received an email from a school administrator which included information to apply for contests and chances at extra funding, she recalled.
First, she applied for Inside Education's Nutrients for Life — a grant that supports the building of learning and school gardens in Alberta classrooms and school yards. Her proposal to reinvigorate the elementary school's Aspen Grove — a fenced-off green space on top of a hill overlooking the playground — won her $500.
"The first thing I did was buy 25 pairs of gardening gloves — child size gardening gloves," she said.
Aspen Grove was in need of revitalization, according to Szuromi. Since its construction at least 10 years ago, it has run wild.
So, she and her students undertook a project. Over the last month, the group of Grade 3 students under the supervision of Szuromi has weeded the plot, spread soil throughout dry areas and sprinkled wildflower seeds, which Szuromi bought from Wild About Flowers, located between Okotoks and Black Diamond.
"I wanted to have natural species of wildflowers to attract [butterflies and bees] for the kids to see," she said.
Another element Szuromi wanted to incorporate into the space was seating, specifically tree stumps. But, with the garden being on a hill, she challenged her students to do some math to figure out how their seating could stay secure.
The students were also concerned about of the state of their playground during heavy rain. The play structure, located at the bottom of the hill, is sometimes pooled with water as a result of rain running down from Milligan Drive.
"That was a big thing, the kids were worried about their swings going out of commission," said Szuromi. "The swings are right at the bottom of the hill and we've had flooding at the base of those."
Adding the soil, mulch, flowers and drought resistant plants will aid in absorbing some of that water, as will the addition of hay bales.
For their work in planning for flood mitigation, the class won $1,000 from GreenLearning's Flood: ED Challenge.
The funding has yet to be directed to a specific project, but whatever is done with it will be environmentally-minded, according to Szuromi. She said they may reintroduce compost bins to classrooms following their removal during the pandemic or construct a friendship bench out of recycled materials.
Szuromi said she was surprised how her students quickly took a sense of ownership and pride in the space they helped revive. She's also enjoyed giving them a different learning experience.
"The connections to our learning is immediate and visceral and tangible because we're out there," she said. "We're seeing the insects pollinating the flowers, feeding the birds.
The space was so wonderful, in fact, that a mallard laid her eggs underneath a tree in the grove, she added.
"The kids were so amazed and respectful and they kept their distance."
Szuromi will continue the work and learning experience with her students in the next school year, and hopes some of the original students will come back to see the fruits of their labour.