Independent school in Kingston, Ont. raising $10,000 to create 'outdoor learning centre'

An independent school in Kingston, Ont., has launched a fundraising campaign to help build a space where its students get outside and learn.

The Quintilian School is a small independent school of fewer than 40 students; it caters to students who have learning differences like autism, attention deficit disorder and anxiety disorders.

The school is fundraising for what they call an “outdoor learning centre,” explains school principal Laura Desousa.

During the pandemic, she says students have spent more time outside, for classes like gym, and it made the school change their way of approaching learning.

“It just made us think what else can we do outside,” Desousa explains. “We’ve got this great space; let’s make it beautiful and usable for our learners.”

The space would include “tables, chairs and shade umbrellas” for children to have a proper space to sit and take their classes. It would also hold a greenhouse and garden beds to use for teaching skills and mental health support.

Ten-year-old Joey McKenna is one of the students at the school. He feels there’s a lot you can learn from a garden. 

“The value of nature. Grade 1 math,” he says. “Johnny has 15 strawberries, he gives Sally two and a half. How many strawberries does he have?”

The Grade 4 student is living on the autism spectrum. He says spending more time outdoors for gym class is something he has enjoyed.

“I could wear my mask a lot less,” he explains. “A lot more fresh air.”

His grandmother, Linda McKenna, says being outside is beneficial for students like him.

“It provides great general health benefits for kids about learning how to re-regulate outside,” she says. “And kids that have anxiety or kids who have autism have been proven to actually function better when they get a certain amount of time outdoors.”

DeSousa agrees that it would help cater to their students learning styles.

“Our students definitely learn by immersing themselves in what they’re learning,” she explains. “So to be able to move outside and move our bodies and be learning in the environment of what we’re learning about, just makes more sense.”

The independent school has about 40 students in all and receives no government funding. DeSousa say the $10,000 total price tag for the dream project is a large one for the school, so they’re turning to outside fundraising through a GoFundMe campaign to make it happen. 

DeSousa says they work to keep tuition low for students, so outside fundraising will help them build their project slowly.