Every year, water accumulates on the West St. Paul School yard. So much water, in fact, that students have nicknamed the recurring pool Lake West St. Paul.
Students in Janna Barkman’s Grade 8 class recently placed first in a national contest — GreenLearning’s 2021 Flood:Ed Challenge — earning $1,000 to plant eco-buffers (trees and shrubs) on the schoolyard to mitigate flooding, retain moisture, and promote biodiversity.
"The Flood:Ed Challenge educates learners about the types and causes of flooding, preparing them for the future of these extreme weather events. By creating a flood resiliency plan and taking tangible actions to protect their school and homes from flooding events, learners can take an active role in combating extreme weather caused by climate change," GreenLearning’s website says.
The students in Barkman’s class were intrigued by the school’s susceptibility to flooding well before the contest, however. Lake West St. Paul contributed to a classroom inquiry on issues related to water and its role in the life cycle, drawing from western and Indigenous science and perspectives. They participated in water workshops and learned from Dan Thomas, a Seven Oaks School Division Elder-in-Residence.
"It was a really great way to talk about both flooding and drought," Barkman said. "So both of those topics we looked at, and how our school is impacted by flooding and drought, how our houses are, and also how humans can both positively and negatively impact water in our communities."
Around the same time, students were learning about storytelling and oral histories. They developed an historical walking tour of the Seven Oaks School Division’s Aki Centre, a land-based learning facility located in West St. Paul. The tour includes 19 stops that describe the history and significance of each particular point, including the retention pond, the water table, and the tall grass prairie restoration area.
Some of the students told stories from the perspective of the land or wildlife while others used the first person point of view.
"I really do feel they had a strong, creative storytelling approach," said Alexis Nazeravich, program co-ordinator at the Aki Centre.
"There are a lot of details they picked up on that shows me the impact this place has had."
The students won the Flood:Ed Challenge for their water research and walking tour project.
"I think the way that they brought in the Indigenous knowledge to better understand their watershed and better understand their responsibility to the land and to keeping it safe and resilient to flooding was the part that stood out most to me," said Sidney Howlett, the engagement manager for GreenLearning.
Barkman and her Grade 8 students will all be moving on to new schools this fall, but the teacher said she hopes the project will leave a lasting impact on West St. Paul School.
"Some of (the students) have been there for nine years. It was a chance to leave a legacy behind too, so that other people will be able to walk the tour at the Aki Centre and also benefit from the trees that will hopefully be planted."
The Times community journalist
If The Buggles’ 1979 breakout single were about Sydney, it might be called Print Killed the Radio Star. Before she joined Canstar Community News, Sydney was an anchor and a reporter for a few local news radio stations in rural Manitoba. After realizing she enjoyed writing more than speaking, Sydney moved to Winnipeg just months after graduating from Carleton University in Ottawa with degrees in journalism and geography. Through clenched teeth and frostbitten fingers, she has come to appreciate Winnipeg — numbing winters and all. When she’s not in the newsroom, Sydney can be found playing card games, listening to music, and writing content for her friends who are too cheap to hire a PR team. Sydney has a strong heart for community news and believes every neighbourhood, town and city is better off because of it — although she may be biased. Sydney loves learning about communities and what makes them tick, which is why she’s grateful to be a reporter covering northwest Winnipeg neighbourhoods, where resilience and innovation is abundant. She can be reached at email@example.com