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  • Writer's pictureHunter Cresswell

An ‘A’ for initiative

Hull principal buys tents for fall semester to increase outdoor learning

By Hunter Cresswell

A “key takeaway” from the return to school this past spring, according to one Hull elementary school principal, is that it’s better for staff and students to do more learning outside, which is why he went out on a limb and bought tents for outdoor learning this coming fall semester.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School principal David McFall spent about $3,000 from his own pocket on three 40-by-20 foot tents – the type used at weddings and other outdoor events – so students can learn outdoors this fall when class starts at the end of August.

“There’s just so many different approaches we’ll have to take this year to minimize the number of people in buildings at a time,” he explained about his purchase.

But the catch is, he didn’t know if using the tents would be allowed when he bought them.

“Sometimes you take a calculated risk; I believe it’s worth it,” McFall said. “I’ve taken a chance and purchased the tents in case – in a few weeks – they’re sold out.”

Turns out, after discussing the idea with his building director this week, his bet paid off and they will be used for all after-school programs, some classes and lunch periods.

“We will have many more ideas in the next few weeks,” McFall added.

His innovative thinking was welcomed by Western Quebec School Board chairman Alain Guy.

“Anyone that comes up with ideas to have school be quasi-normal this fall gets an ‘A’ from me because the [Quebec] government has failed to reassure parents … that we’re taking all the necessary measures to protect your children,” Guy said.

While not a health expert, Guy said that outdoor environments seem to present less of a risk for transmitting COVID-19.

“This is exactly what we should be looking at — solutions, instead of getting kids back in class with absolutely no control,” he stated.

Guy said he fully supports changes to classroom practices that protect students, staff and their families.

“I’m sure the [school] board will be very receptive [about the tents],” he added.

McFall has already got media attention for his purchase; he was quoted in a recent Winnipeg Sun article and he’s also landed on the radar of other principals within the WQSB, including Chelsea Elementary School principal Andrea Gage, who McFall said wanted to discuss the idea of using tents as outdoor classrooms with him.

“Chelsea Elementary is absolutely exploring the option of more outdoor learning in order to support the health and safety of students, staff and their families. I am in contact with David McFall about this and the logistics required, and feel that optimizing outdoor time is an important strategy for mitigating health risks,” Gage wrote in an email to The Low Down on Aug. 4.

Wakefield Elementary School principal Julie Fram-Greig wasn’t immediately available for comment before the publishing deadline on Aug. 4.

McFall said he’ll find out if he can be reimbursed for the three tents he paid for, and also for a fourth tent he said he wants to buy in the coming weeks.

According to Guy, that reimbursement won’t be coming from the provincial government, since no funding associated with innovative ideas for teaching during a pandemic has been approved.

“We are limited in the funding we have,” he explained. “We’re spending a lot more trying to reach the [province’s] goal here [of getting students back in classes this fall] and [they’re] not doing much to support us,” Guy added.


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