Behind Mildred Hall School in Yellowknife, a group of students sharpen their wood-chopping skills under the watchful eye of a teacher. Others keep warm around a fire on wood stumps, laughing as they watch the flames.
The new outdoor learning centre provides a space for students to get hands-on experience outside the classroom. Grade 8 student Avery Cunningham said he hasn’t spent much time out there just yet, but so far it’s “pretty cool.”
Along with chopping wood, he said he wants to learn more about being outside.
“I like to be outside,” he explained.
The centre officially opened on Friday as Grade 7 and 8 students gathered for drumming, prayers, and a feeding-the-fire ceremony.
Principal Elizabeth Brace said the initiative, which is open to all students, has been several years in the making.
“I’m super-excited for this space,” she said.
The learning centre allows students to learn life skills and gain a sense of responsibility along with personal growth, Brace said.
Students have already learned how to pluck and clean ducks and cook them over the fire. Grade 8 students work on moccasins with an Elder on Friday afternoons, with the aim of completing a pair to wear for the graduation ceremony at the end of the year.
“It was so exciting to be out here and to see our students learning their language on the land,” Brace said.
Alongside Indigenous language and cultural learning, the principal said the centre allows academic classes to be held in a wall tent by the warmth of a wood stove. Some students are also applying math and science learning to build structures in the bush.
“It’s really neat to see them taking their academic courses outside as well,” the principal said.