Thunder Bay·Audio

Claude E. Garton Public School in Thunder Bay, Ont., grows new outdoor classroom

A Thunder Bay, Ont. public school continues to branch out when it comes to how it teaches its students.

Lakehead University donates tree trunk stools for use as outdoor seating

Students at Claude E. Garton Public School in Thunder Bay try out their new stump stools, which were donated by Lakehead University to help with outdoor learning. (Karen Saunders/Provided)

A Thunder Bay, Ont. public school continues to branch out when it comes to how it teaches its students.

Claude E. Garton Public School is working to develop a new, outdoor classroom, a project that recently received a boost from Lakehead University in the form of a donation of tree stump stools to be used as outdoor seating.

"They're made from local ash trees," said Karen Saunders, director of the Canadian Institute of Forestry's northwestern Ontario chapter. The institute is working with Claude E. Garton school to develop the outdoor classroom.

"They're probably around 18 inches in height, so we've made them a good height for most students," she said. "And we've stenciled on our Canadian Institute of Forestry logo."

The donation came about after Tanya Gouthro, Grade 6, 7 and 8 teacher at the school, reached out to Saunders and asked if she could help find stumps for use as stools.

"I realized National Forest Week was coming up, and our local section hadn't really taken part in any activities over the course of [COVID-19], so we decided to make it into a little bit bigger of an event," Saunders said.

Gouthro said the idea for the stools grew out of the return-to-school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"When I found out this summer that we were, in fact, going back to work and back into the classroom, and that class sizes weren't really changing ... my first instinct was 'how do I get [students] outside," she said. "We have quite a big school ground, and so I was just really looking for options."

"I thought about mats, I thought about having kids bring their own seats."

Eventually, Gouthro decided on the tree stump stools, and turned to Saunders for help in finding them.

The stump stools feature the logo of the Canadian Institute of Forestry. (Karen Saunders/Provided)

"We've got several members of our institute that are [Lakehead University] faculty members or student members," Saunders said. "I put the call out [and] immediately there was an answer from Lakehead, saying 'oh, well, we've got a whole pile of wood sitting in the back."

Students cut the wood to size, and stools were delivered to Claude E. Garton this week.

Gouthro said work is ongoing on the school's outdoor classroom, which will take the form of a open-air structure on the school grounds.

The goal, she said, is to create something big enough that can seat at least 25 students, with physical-distancing measures in place.

"We are definitely moving forward with it," Gouthro said. "Creating an opportunity for kids to get out in the fresh air, be able to take their masks off and interact with each other, see each others' faces and be out in nature, I just think it's super-important for them right now."

"There are so many rules that they're having to follow," she said. "A little bit of freedom is going to be really good for them."

Saunders said institute members are prepared to help out when it comes to donating materials, or helping build the classroom itself.

"We've got a lot of people that are eager to help," she said. "We're all super-keen to keep helping."

The 100th anniversary of National Forest Week is being marked with a special gift of seats made from tree stumps to Claude E. Garton Public School in Thunder Bay to help it develop its outdoor classroom, not just to deal with the pandemic but for the future as well. The CBC's Amy Hadley spoke with Karen Saunders of the northwestern Ontario division of the Canadian Institute of Forestry, and with teacher Tanya Gouthro. 8:24