Our Schools: Signal Hill students share a valuable lesson in stewardship

Signal Hill Elementary students are once again campaigning to initiate positive change in their local environment.

Hot on the heels of the successful Buddy Bench project, which tackles loneliness on the playground, the Kindergarten to Grade 3 students are turning their attention to the welfare of local wildlife. Specifically, a family of bears who have been trying to join them on the playground at break time.

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Mrs. Leverton’s K/1 class became interested in these creatures when they were prohibited from playing outside due to the bears’ proximity to the school grounds. They used this as a unique real-life learning experience to question why the bears were coming so close, what conflict this was causing in the community and what could be done to reduce any potential harm from coming to these wonderful creatures.

They invited fellow classmates from Mrs. Cameron and Ms. Benes’ Grades 2/3 class and pooled their resources to brainstorm ideas of where their learning could go. Thinking outside of the box, they chose to take the class outside and get advice from local experts.
Stewardship Pemberton’s Dawn Johnson guided the students on a bear walk, pointing out all the attractants along the way, and explaining how people could reduce or even eliminate these altogether.

Jolene Patrick from the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative came to talk to the classes about grizzly bears. Then they had a furry visit from two bear dogs and their trainer Lori Homstol. Much to the students’ amazement the dogs were able to find items the children had hidden in the classroom.

Additionally, Ms. Benes’ class undertook cultural and historical research to discover all the incredible facts about the use of bears in local indigenous culture: bear meat was a welcome addition to the traditional local aboriginal diet. Bear hides were used for clothing and shelters, and the bones were used to make tools and weapons.  

Bear teeth were attached to the ends of sticks for mushroom pickers to use for scratching at the soil, and to find mushrooms hidden underground or under moss.

Having had such a wealth of interactive information from such diverse sources, the class decided to share their newfound knowledge with the wider community. They have since been working on class videos to present topical information to parents via the SeeSaw program and to share with the other classes.

As for the bears in the playground, the students investigated their favourite hangout spots. During their Wilderness Wednesday outings they often noticed the baseball diamond, used frequently by many user groups, was left littered with garbage. Not content with peer-to-peer learning alone, the class completed a trip to the Village office with a letter expressing concerns, and appealing to the Village for assistance in eliminating this bear attractant.  

They have suggested to the municipality that a bear safe garbage be placed in close proximity to the baseball diamond. They presented their letter to Sheena Fraser, the manager of corporate and legislative services in the council chambers. Mrs. Fraser let them know that their letter of concern would be read at the next council meeting.  

“As bears get ready to hibernate they look for more food, we learned that bears are attracted to garbage, crabapples, bees and honey, carrots, compost, chickens, dog food, barbecues and berries. They also like vegetable gardens, grapes and bird seed,” the students’ letter said.

Students recommend that everyone in the community do their part in alleviating bear issues by removing attractants. “Pick the fruit off of the fruit trees, don’t leave out sunflower seeds or dog food, use electric fences, make sure to wash recycling, clean barbecues, pick up garbage and use bear-safe, locking garbage containers.”

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it seems it takes a school to raise a bear cub.

Kathy Leverton is a teacher at Signal Hill Elementary School and Claire Fuller is the parent of a student.

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