Students at Robert Bateman Secondary are volunteering their time and talents to create an outdoor classroom.

Students at Robert Bateman Secondary are volunteering their time and talents to create an outdoor classroom.

Outdoor classroom will balance art and nature at Bateman Secondary

Abbotsford students at Robert Bateman Secondary are trying to create an outdoor classroom and art garden.

Anyone who still remembers what life was like in high school can identify with the yearning to get out of the classroom and enjoy the spring sunshine – staring out the window and wishing the teacher would let you study outdoors.

At Robert Bateman Secondary, that longing could one day be fulfilled.

Students are working on creating a combination outdoor classroom/art garden, with the help of teachers and community volunteers.

The ever-evolving project started more than a year ago with the creation of a brick art bench at the school’s lower entrance. A second bench was also started and will be finished this year.

Now the school is working on incorporating the benches, more green space, an art wall and a new design to create an outdoor classroom.

Sherry Dunn, a teacher at Robert Bateman, said the students have been “digging out the site” where the outdoor classroom will eventually be created.

The classroom design is inspired by water and will incorporate four brick benches in a rain drop (semi-circle) shape, as well as additional benches behind it. A cedar roof is also planned.

“The kids have plans for raised gardens further along, including herb gardens for the Home-Ec department,” said Dunn.

Two Grade 12 students, Janver Castro and Tessa Webb, have been collaborating on the project, creating a distinctive look.

“I helped design the overall layout,” said Castro, adding he’s worked closely with Webb and Dunn to make the project a reality.

“I thought it would be a really cool project to do, get involved with the school and have a legacy project,” said Webb.

The students are hopeful that the foundation can be poured this year and the second bench completed.

“It’s probably going to take another year or two to get everything built,” said Webb.

She said other students will design more aspects to keep the project evolving.

When completed, “whole classes” should be able to come out and use the area.

“They can be more connected with the environment. It’s just a place where kids can hang out and learn and be outside and enjoy nature,” said Webb.

Both Webb and Castro will graduate before the project is complete, but they hope to stay involved for years to come.

Other students have already kept that commitment.

Taylor Main, who designed the second, uncompleted bench, graduated last year but is still spending time at the school to see her portion of the project completed.

Now a student at the University of the Fraser Valley, Main said it was an interesting process to design the bench last year and now see it created.

The students involved in the project have benefitted from consulting with several outside artists on the concept and design of the outdoor classroom.

Those artists include the school’s namesake Robert Bateman, as well as Buster Simpson, Carmen McKay and Ingrid Koivukangas.

In keeping with the water theme, Dunn received a donation of paddles from a local dragon boat team. The paddles will be used as rafters in the cedar roof.

Also lending his expertise to the project is Don MacBeth, a semi-retired brick mason and owner of D&M Bricklaying.

He has stepped in to help the students with construction.

The design has had to be altered, from time to time, to encompass some of the natural plants already in the area, in keeping with the school’s focus on being environmentally friendly.

But change is something Dunn expects, saying the project may never be truly completed as future students can add their own vision to the structure.