One year after the Sooke school district launched a nature kindergarten program at Sangster Elementary, the Greater Victoria district is considering a similar pilot project at two schools in James Bay.
South Park Family School and James Bay Community School hope to roll out a coastal kindergarten program in September 2014.
Students would spend part of their day learning and exploring outdoors in Beacon Hill Park, Clover Point Park, Holland Point Park, Fisherman’s Wharf and along the Dallas Road walkway from the Ogden Point Breakwater to Mile 0, the proposal says.
The program also aims to foster environmental stewardship and promote aboriginal language and ways of learning.
“There is an emerging body of evidence regarding the developmental significance of contact with nature and its positive impact on children’s physical and mental well-being,” the proposal says.
The Sooke district launched its nature kindergarten as a two-year pilot project in September 2012. Parents camped out overnight to register their children in the program, which was modelled after forest pre-schools that began in Scandinavia and spread across Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The 22 students in the inaugural class spent part of each day hiking and playing in the Royal Roads University forest that borders Sangster Elementary or exploring nearby Esquimalt Lagoon.
If approved, registration for the Greater Victoria coastal kindergarten program will take place on a first-come, first-served basis beginning in January 2014. Two spots will be held at each school for children of aboriginal descent. The James Bay school will hold 10 spaces for students in the catchment area.
The school board has yet to grant final approval, but the proposal received a warm reception from trustees at a committee meeting this week.
“It’s a pretty good program, and I think it will be supported,” said board chairwoman Peg Orcherton. “But it’ll be up to the board on the 21st [of October] to make the final decision.”
Trustee Diane McNally was the lone voice in opposition.
“I voted against it on principle, not because I don’t like it,” she said.
She called the proposal a “great initiative,” but objected to the recent trend of creating “schools of choice” in which parents abandon neighbourhood schools in favour of driving their kids across town to academies and specialty programs.
“It’s a branding exercise, and to me that’s all part of commercialization and privatization of what is a public good,” she said in an interview.
McNally said the shift creates “winners and losers” among schools and favours those families with the resources to transport their children across the city to their school of choice.
“That’s not how it should be,” she said. “There should be proper funding for neighbourhood schools for pretty much everything.”