The young athletes jump through colourful hoops, bounce on a trampoline, and run around inside tall canopy tents set up outside Sage Creek School.

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The young athletes jump through colourful hoops, bounce on a trampoline, and run around inside tall canopy tents set up outside Sage Creek School.

Passersby might mistake the group for a circus troupe.

In fact, the elementary students are training for a year-long performance of outdoor phys-ed — rain or shine, wind chill or humidex.

"It feels like I’m walking (Walt) Disney World everyday. I get so many steps," said Neil Crockford, a phys-ed specialist at Sage Creek.

Kindergarten students from  Ecole Sage Creek take part in a gym class Tuesday inside a tent set up on the school grounds site as part of a pilot project. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

RUTH BONNEVILLE

Kindergarten students from Ecole Sage Creek take part in a gym class Tuesday inside a tent set up on the school grounds site as part of a pilot project. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

During a regular school day before the COVID-19 pandemic, Crockford said he and his phys-ed colleagues would clock between 10,000 and 12,000 steps daily. Now that they are working outside all day, that figure has increased to between 15,000 and 20,000.

Many public school divisions have been encouraging staff and students to spend more time outside this year, given the public health emphasis on physical distancing and good quality ventilation to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

The Louis Riel School Division has taken things one step further, by renting out tents for educators to use as outdoor classrooms in schools squeezed for space.

Sage Creek, École St. Germain and École Van Belleghem are all partaking in the tent classroom pilot, which got underway this week.

Since it opened, enrolment and classroom space at Sage Creek have collided. The school originally opened as a K-8 facility, but has since shrunk its catchment size to K-6 in order to meet student demand. There are currently upwards of 750 students at the school in southeast Winnipeg.

Tents have made the prospect of year-round phys-ed possible, says Sage Creek principal Marc Poirier. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

RUTH BONNEVILLE

Tents have made the prospect of year-round phys-ed possible, says Sage Creek principal Marc Poirier. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Ensuring student desks are spaced by at least two metres has further complicated existing challenges. The school’s music rooms and gymnasium have become homerooms, displacing the trio of phys-ed teachers.

Hosting phys-ed in classrooms was on the table for school days during Winnipeg’s notorious winter season, but the tents have made the prospect of year-round phys-ed possible, said principal Marc Poirier.

Louis Riel’s recess policy, which also applies to outdoor instruction, states students may be allowed outside for a maximum of 15 minutes when the wind chill reaches -27 C. If wind chill plunges to -30, students are asked to remain indoors.

"The advantage of the tents is that gets rid of that wind chill factor so we’re confident that (for) the large majority of days, we will be able to stay outside," Poirier said.

Sage Creek teacher Matt Gagné wore four layers to work outside Tuesday, in addition to ski goggles.

The tents aren't heated, but the shelter cuts down on the wind chill factor, educators say. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

RUTH BONNEVILLE

The tents aren't heated, but the shelter cuts down on the wind chill factor, educators say. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

It’s difficult to assess skills, such as throwing, if students are in their bulky winter clothes and mittens, Gagné said.

The phys-ed teacher said he was originally skeptical the tents would provide enough warmth in order to work on fine motor skills, but students have been able to take off their mittens to throw balls and bean bags.

The Environment Canada forecast for Tuesday indicated 20 km/h winds and a wind chill near -15 C.

Inside school tents, kindergarten students took turns tossing their designated bean bag at targets. Older students participated in fitness activities outside the tents.

"(Outdoor phys-ed) gets tiring at the end of the day, but surprisingly, the kids don’t complain. They enjoy being outside. It’s not -30 C outside yet, but we’ve had some pretty bad winds," Crockford said, between classes Tuesday.

"They’re not heated, but it’s a lot warmer in here than you’d think."

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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