Wed, 31 Aug 2016
Tags: Education

Transformed School Grounds Enhance Environmental Learning


Nestled in the heart of the Fraser Valley lies the small rural community of Dewdney. Three years ago, declining enrollment threatened the future of the community’s only school, but today, Dewdney Elementary has become a shining example of how re-creating outdoor space can strengthen student learning and bring together a community. Led by the vision of their Principal, Mrs. McLeod, and the implementation of the Community Outdoor Recreation and Environmental Education (CORE) program, this small school has been hugely successful in incorporating environmental education, stewardship and restoration into everyday learning.


The school transformed a soggy field of grass into a naturalized area full of opportunities for play, growth and learning. Students participated in the design and construction of various features, including a “mud kitchen” and garden boxes for growing food. They also planted and cared for fruit trees, edible berry bushes and other native plants. A wooden tree-cookie pathway leads the young learners through the landscape, past apple trees and strawberry plantings into a free play area with loose natural materials for making whatever the students can imagine come to life. Not without modern conveniences, the site also boasts rainwater harvesting, biofiltration swales, and a power-generating windmill for a covered shelter appropriately named “the Den”.



Teachers at Dewdney have used the concepts from HCTF’s Wild Schools and the Get Outdoors resources to augment the student’s use of the learning area during free time, as well as more deeply infusing it into the learning process while doing inquiry based work and while planting and maintaining the planter boxes. Using a GO Grant, classes were able to create and nurture food gardens including a three-sisters planting concept of beans, corn and squash . In the fall, they will harvest, prepare and preserve their garden’s bounty with the help of community partners.

Experiences in the outdoor space integrate curriculum concepts of numeracy, language, science and physical education. Students learn from their successes and also failures; they’ve witnessed some of their gardening work quickly undone by nighttime critters, and gained an understanding of the interactions between plants and wildlife in the process. Seeds that fail to sprout prompt questions as to why, providing an opportunity for inquiry-based learning. These experiences are only the beginning; Dewdney’s efforts to integrate ecology and stewardship into student learning recently won them $25,000 of technology from Staples to help further their environmental and educational programs. These include restoring and expanding a wetland are covered in invasive reed canary plants and the addition of a large greenhouse.

While replicating the success of Dewdney Elementary’s schoolyard transformation may seem daunting to those starting with a blank schoolyard canvas, Dewdney’s administration encourages interested schools to start small and build as you grow. “Our project and any successes that come along with it, are the result of teachers, parents, community members, businesses working together to make a difference in their corner of the world,” says Sue McLeod, the school’s principal. “It is not the size of the project that is important, but the willingness to jump in and get their hands dirty. That is the most fun of all!”


Thanks to WildBC facilitator Lisa Fox for sharing this story with us! For more information on HCTF Education’s projects and programs, visit

UPDATE: Read about how Dewdney Elementary School is making their school yard even greener through the HCTF-funded Wetlands Institute.


Wed, 1 Jun 2016
Tags: Education

Schools Grow Connection with Nature

Wild School Kids Learning Outdoors.jpg

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) has announced it will provide over $62,000 for 25 BC schools selected to participate in its Wild School program. The 3-year program provides teachers and students of K-8 schools with free resources, training and support for environmental learning, outdoor field experiences and connections to conservation work in their communities.

Three schools within the Cariboo-Chilcotin School District#27 have been accepted into the Wild School program: Marie Sharpe Elementary, Horsefly Elementary and 100 Mile Elementary.

Calvin Dubray, Principal at Marie Sharpe Elementary, says the school is looking forward to beginning the program next fall, especially since it will coincide with the start of their new Nature Kindergarten program.

“Our staff and students are currently engaged in place-based education and we are seeing deeper, richer learning happening,” says Dubray. “We are excited about the additional opportunities and experiences the Wild School program will offer to enhance our outdoor learning initiatives.”

The Wild School program evolved from the successful Science in Action program that began in 2006. Science in Action was a single year program focused on providing K-8 teachers and schools with resources to support hands-on, active learning through science. In 2012, Science in Action began the transition to the Wild School program, a multi-year model that incorporates healthy and sustainable initiatives toward connecting schools to nature.

HCTF Education Manager Kerrie Mortin says the Wild School program evolved from their experiences delivering Science in Action, and is supported by current research about the effectiveness of whole-school program models. “One of the key elements of the Wild School program is professional development. The shift from a one-day workshop model to providing multiple years of professional development opportunities – including workshops, mentoring, networking and support- has been shown to be more effective in helping teachers build capacity and transform their teaching and learning, leading to better outcomes for students.”

Marie Mullen, Principal of Fulford Elementary School in SD#64, says the Wild School program has provided their teachers with the resources, activities and know-how to get their students learning outside. “[HCTF’s] generous support of field trips and eco-mentoring has enhanced our place-based learning initiatives and helped our students connect with- and become stewards of- their local environment.”

Ashley Frketich, a teacher at Ecole Margaret Jenkins School in SD61, agrees that the program was instrumental in making the transition to outdoor learning. “After attending one of the workshops, I realized I could take a lot of little steps to move my classroom outside,” says Frketich. “I was very surprised at how easy it was. As a result, my class has spent a lot more time outdoors than ever before and we are all loving it.”

Over the past nine years, the Wild Schools and Science in Action programs have helped 3500 BC teachers in 267 schools provide hands-on environmental learning experiences to over 72,000 students.

About the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF)

Since 1981, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation has provided more than $160 Million in project funding to more than 2,000 conservation, restoration, enhancement, and educational projects across BC.

HCTF believes that investing in education is key to the future of conservation. The Wild School program is just one of HCTF’s Education program areas; they also offer GO Grants to cover transportation and programming costs for getting students learning outdoors and Connect to Conservation, a forum to connect the education community with on-the-ground conservation work.


Click on photos for full-resolution images.


Students from Monteray Middle School learn to identify a variety of intertidal animals on a GO grant funded field trip. Principal Ken Andrews says the school has greatly benefitted from the Wild School program.




For more information contact:


Kerrie Mortin

Manager, HCTF Education

Phone: 250-940-9787


107- 19 Dallas Road

Victoria BC V8V 5A6



Fri, 15 Apr 2016
Tags: Education

BC Kids Granted Opportunities for Outdoor Learning

Children from the North Okanagan Shuswap School District learning outdoors with help from an HCTF Education GO Grant.


Victoria –The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF) has announced it will provide over $66,000 for BC schools to get their students out of the classroom and into the outdoors. Their aptly-named GO (Get Outdoor) Grants will be used to pay for bus transportation, project materials and program fees to provide hands-on outdoor learning experiences for more than 4500 students.

The North Okanagan Shuswap School District was one of many school districts across the province who will be benefitting from GO Grants this spring. In total, 5 of the District’s schools plus an additional 10 classes through a district-wide grant will receive just over $7700 for outdoor, environmental education field trips, including some of the following:

  • Armstrong Elementary’ s grade 4 and 5 classes will visit Kingfisher Interpretive Centre to learn about salmon and salmon habitat
  • Salmon Arm West Elementary’ s grade 2/3 and 4/5 classes will be getting out on the Shuswap River to explore life along the river and conduct local indigenous plantings
  • Shuswap Middle School class of grade 6/7 will be going to Norfolk Wild Regional Park to investigate and measure biodiversity in the park
  • Hillcrest Elementary grade 2/3 classes will take a trip Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park to examine plants and animals in the ecosystem

Now in its fourth year, demand for HCTF’s GO Grant program has steadily increased, and requests for grants now exceed the amount of funding available. HCTF received over 150 applications in its February intake, 68 of which were approved. HCTF Education Manager Kerrie Mortin hopes the amount of funding available can be increased in future years.

“Costs such as bussing, program or leader fees, and outdoor field equipment are huge barriers for many classes here in BC,” says Mortin. “GO Grants are relatively small amounts of money that can make a huge difference to whether or not a class can experience outdoor learning. HCTF believes this is one of our most important investments for our future, and so do educators:”

Teachers who have used the grants to take their classrooms on outdoor learning field experiences report that this type of learning has huge benefits.

“Fieldtrips are a fantastic learning experience for children,” says Nuala Powers, a kindergarten teacher at Sacred Heart School in Prince George. “There’s only so much you can show them or read about in the classroom. But when they go out in the environment and really experience it, it’s fantastic for them.”

Kim Fulton, a retired teacher and administrator, agrees. “Through these grants, children learn about the diverse ecosystems in BC,” says Fulton. “They develop a stewardship ethic to look after these systems and all the critters and plants in them for future generations.”

Since the program’s inception in 2012, GO Grants have allowed more than 25,500 BC students to get outdoors for a total investment of $333,067. The average cost per student is $13.

About the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation (HCTF)

Since 1981, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation has provided more than $160 Million in project funding to more than 2,000 conservation, restoration, enhancement, and educational projects across BC. HCTF believes that the key to the future of conservation is investing in education. GO Grants is just one of HCTF’s Education program areas which also includes WildBC, a long-running and successful program that has been providing and supporting educators with environmental education programs and resources for over 25 years.

For more information, contact:

Kerrie Mortin 250-940-9787

Manager, Education Programs

Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation

Fri, 4 Dec 2015
Tags: Education

Building the Next Generation of Fish & Wildlife Biologists


British Columbia is currently undergoing a period of rapid environmental change: the province’s accelerated rate of industrial expansion combined with climate change has increased the need for experienced professionals capable of addressing growing environmental challenges. The imminent retirement of a significant percentage of BC’s current conservation experts has upped the urgency in cultivating the next generation of fish and wildlife professionals. Training for these hands-on careers requires moving beyond the classroom and out into the field. As part of HCTF’s commitment to building a better future for BC’s fish, wildlife and habitat, we’ve helped fund paid summer internships for BCIT students in the Ecological Restoration Program. These internships provide invaluable real-world experience for students as they work alongside professional biologists from HCTF partner organizations. In the following video series, you’ll hear from students and their mentors about the benefits of this program for building conservation capacity in BC.

After you’ve watched the videos, scroll down for a more in-depth conversation with the students about their experiences with the internship program, and some advice for young people considering a career in conservation.

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Delta Farmland Project

Part 3: Grauer Wetland Project

Meet the Interns

Emma de Groot

Emma is a second year student in the Ecological Restoration program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Emma grew up in Vancouver, and prior to attending BCIT, completed an undergraduate degree in Biology and Environment, Sustainability and Society at Dalhousie University.

Emma_DG.jpgWhat inspired you to study fish/wildlife/habitat biology?

Spending time outdoors was what inspired me to study biology and ultimately restoration ecology. Every summer while I was growing up my family and I would road trip from Vancouver to our wilderness cabin on Lac La Ronge in Northern Saskatchewan. We would spend weeks there fishing, exploring the wilderness and swimming in the freezing cold lake. The experiences I had there away from the city, connecting with nature were instrumental in my desire to pursue environmental studies as a career.

Why did you apply for this internship program?

There are lots of hands on learning opportunities at BCIT – the Ecological Restoration program takes us out of the classroom to participate in the work that we will hopefully be one day doing ourselves. The summer internship program provided an opportunity for extended work experience that helped me prepare for our future in the industry. I jumped at the chance to add to the knowledge I have already gained from the program.

What projects did you work on as part of this internship?

My internship was with Ducks Unlimited Canada. I have been working with them on a diversity of different wetland projects in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island. One of these was the long term monitoring of restoration work completed on the Grauer lands in Richmond. The area was recently restored back into a salt marsh by excavating new ponds, building up islands and planting marsh vegetation. I helped conduct vegetation surveys in the Grauer salt marsh to evaluate the success of the plantings and determine what other vegetation was growing. These consisted of looking at 1 m2 quadrat areas and identifying all the vegetation within the square and its percent cover. The information derived from these surveys can be used to determine whether the restoration was successful and if there is a need to do more work on the site. We also were tracking the movement of large wood through the salt marsh. This entailed going on a scavenger hunt for marked logs and recording their GPS coordinates. While some wood is necessary for adding complexity to the site, the entire area was being choked out by all the wood that was present. The restoration entailed pilling up the wood onto islands, which would allow marsh vegetation to grow in the opened up areas. The wood that was left is being tracked in order to evaluate natural movements of large wood across the salt marsh.

I had never spent much time in salt marshes prior to working on this project. It was interesting to learn how to identify the different vegetation and learn about their unique adaptations of dealing with the brackish environment.

What was it like working with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC)?

Working with the DUC staff in the Vancouver office has been a very enjoyable experience. They all have a passion for the work that they are doing that I found inspirational.

Why do you think the work that DUC is doing is important?

Wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems on earth and are critical habitat for a great diversity of species. Protecting wetlands is incredibly important not only to preserve the species that depend on them but to ensure they continue to perform those ecosystem services that we take for granted. DUC is at the forefront of protecting wetlands across Canada so that everyone can benefit, not just ducks!

What has been your favourite part of the internship?

My favourite part of the internship has been getting the opportunity to work outside and learn about wetlands. DUC manages many different wetland types in the Lower mainland each one offering unique habitat characteristics. Understanding and meeting the variety of needs of these wetlands made each day on the job interesting and challenging.

Do you think the internship has been a valuable experience? Do you think hands-on experiences (like the work you’re doing as part of this internship) are an important component of learning?

The internship with DUC has been a very valuable experience. When studying the environment there is only so much that can be learned in the classroom, it takes getting outside and getting your hands dirty. The internship taught me lots of valuable information and skills as well as reinforced knowledge I had already gained in school. I think it is important for any one studying this field to get the opportunity to gain real job experience out of school.

What would you tell middle and high school students that are interested in a career in this field? Did you know this is what you wanted to do when you were in high school?

The best advice I can give to anyone interested in this field is to get outside and experience nature! A connection to the environment is not something you can learn in a classroom, it takes going out and learning about and loving the natural world around you.

Do you feel hopeful that your generation is going to be able to work towards solutions for some of the conservation challenges we’re facing?

I am optimistic that my generation will be able to work towards solutions for the conservation challenges we are facing. There is so much more awareness and willingness to take action in the younger generation concerning issues surrounding the environment. It is going to take ingenuity and hard work but I am confident we can do it!




Arthur Kujawiak

Art is a second-year student in the Ecological Restoration Degree Program at BCIT. Art grew up in Abbotsford, BC, and previously completed a Diploma in ‘Fish, Wildlife, and Recreation’. Art spent the summer working with the Delta Farmlands and Wildlife Trust, a long-time HCTF grant recipient working to preserve farmland and wildlife habitat on the lower Fraser River delta through co-operative land stewardship with local farmers.

Art_K_intern_2.jpgWhat inspired you to study fish/wildlife/habitat biology?

I’ve always been intrigued by wildlife. As a kid, my friends and I spent a lot of time exploring trails in the undeveloped forests behind our houses and all over Abbotsford. My parents used to take me and my brother hiking, camping and adventuring across BC. I think that combination of experiences helped to give me this love of nature, an appreciation of its value, and an urge to protect it.

Why did you apply for this internship program?

It’s a great opportunity – there are certainly other summer jobs available for students, but very few allow you to gain hands-on experience and such a broad spectrum of applicable skills.

What projects did you work on as part of this internship?

I worked with the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust studying the diversity and abundance of bird species in the Trust’s farmland hedgerows. This study looks at what effect hedgerow age and other characteristics have on bird usage of those hedgerows. I’d walk the hedgerows, listening carefully for any bird activity within 50 meters. We’d identify the species, number of individuals, their behaviour, and whether they were in the hedgerow or likely just associated with adjacent habitat.

What did this experience add to your classroom learning?

One thing I’ve found is that you can study pre-recorded bird songs until you’re familiar with dozens or even hundreds of them, only to find that when you’re finally out in the field, the birds make variations of those sounds and have different ‘dialects’ from the ones you learned – it’s a bit of a steep learning curve!

What was it like working with Christine (of the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust) on this project?

Christine is great to work with. I really couldn’t imagine someone who’s better suited for her position. She’s always cheerful, friendly, and very knowledgeable. You can tell she’s really passionate about the work she does and she brings a lot of her own agricultural experience to the table.

Why do you think the work that the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust is doing is important?

In addition to providing habitat for birds migrating on an important international Flyway, the habitats that they are creating and preserving benefit other human needs as well. Hedgerows benefit farm fields by providing habitat for beneficial insects such as pollinators. Wetlands act like kidneys by filtering out pollutants to give us naturally purified drinking water. So as the human population grows, the work that conservation organizations do becomes even more important.

What has been your favourite part of the internship?

I get to be outdoors, with fresh air and morning sunrises. Work is almost literally a walk in the park to listen to the birds sing.

Do you think the internship was a valuable experience? Do you think hands-on experiences (like the work you’re doing as part of this internship) are an important component of learning?

Absolutely. You can spend weeks in a classroom learning theory, but having hands-on experience really helps bring it all together and locks in that skill set.

Did you know this is what you wanted to do when you were in high school?

Honestly, this never occurred to me as an option until maybe a decade after I graduated high school. I feel that it’s not uncommon to be unsure of what you want to do with your life when you’re a teenager.

What would you tell middle and high school students that do think they might be interested in a career in this field?

Well, if you’re still in high school then take some biology courses to keep that door open. I also recommend going for the Fish and Wildlife course at BCIT as it gives you a lot of the basic skills and knowledge that we need and use, it satisfies the prerequisites for getting into the Ecological Restoration Program, and it’s a lot of fun!

Where do you hope your career takes you?

You know that saying that goes ‘if you find a job you enjoy, you’ll never work another day in your life’? Well, if I could combine that with a career that has me doing and learning new things and exploring new territory – that would be ideal.

Do you feel hopeful that your generation is going to be able to work towards solutions for some of the conservation challenges we’re facing?

I’m optimistic – We have a lot of bright minds in our younger generations who see the value in protecting the environment. And with newer, green technologies, the right leadership, increased public awareness, and the implementation of the right environmental initiatives, I feel that we can do a lot of good.

Many thanks to Art Kujawiak, Emma de Groot, Dr. Ken Ashley, Christine Terpsma, Eric Palm, and Dan Buffet for participating in the filming of these videos, and thanks to Rod Hsu of Fishing with Rod for putting them together. The summer internship program was co-funded by HCTF and a grant from Rudy North to the BCIT Rivers Institute, with partnership funding from the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Squamish Watershed Society, Fraser Valley Conservancy, and the BC Conservation Foundation.


Fri, 4 Sep 2015
Tags: Education

GOing Back to School


It’s almost time for BC kids to head back to the classroom. While the end of summer typically means a shift towards more indoor activities, HCTF GO Grants can help teachers get their students outdoors and learning about nature. K-12 teachers can apply for grants of up to $600 per class (max of $3500 a school) to pay for bus transportation, project materials or leader/programs fees for hands-on, outdoor field trips with a conservation or environmental theme. Full application criteria and grant requirements are available at Questions? Contact our education department by email or phoning 250 940 9786 (toll free 1 800 387 9853).




Tue, 26 Nov 2013
Tags: Education

Okanagan-Shuswap Schools Use HCTF Funding to Connect Students with the Outdoors


Thanks to Alice Hucul of the North Okanagan-Shuswap District for sending us the following story about how local schools are planning to use their CEAF and PCAF grants to support hands-on environmental learning.


This fall, four schools in the North Okanagan-Shuswap District were successful in earning grants from the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. M.V. Beattie, South Broadview, Carlin Elementary Middle School and Eagle River Secondary School had their proposals approved for funding. M.V. Beattie’s program received a Public Conservation Assistance Fund (PCAF) grant while the other three received funding from the Conservation Education Assistance Fund (CEAF). The grants are being used by the schools for different activities but have one common theme – all will help expand the classroom to include outdoor learning for students!

North_Okanagan_Shuswap_HCTF_Grant_2.JPGAt M.V. Beattie, the $3,200 PCAF grant is helping change a wet “problem area” on the school grounds into a replica of Shuswap River, and will become a place where students can study wetlands. Retired principal and outdoor activist Kim Fulton (aka Dr. Fish) has been helping M.V. Beattie with this project. He explains wetlands are one of the most threatened, undervalued, and misunderstood ecosystems in B.C. By re-creating a wetland system on the playground, classes will study its evolution, and come to know its beauty and ecological benefits. Hopefully, present and future decision makers will be better equipped to make informed choices for fish and wildlife. Principal Denise Brown says that, in future, a solar powered waterfall will be added into the existing wetland. “The movement of the water is important to the environment and the aesthetic value will be appreciated by our students and the community in general. Often the children spend their break times in the wetland exploring and watching nature.”
A public trail will be constructed to go right past the wetland, allowing the community at large to enjoy and also develop a better understanding and appreciation of the function and beauty of wetlands.

South Broadview Elementary received a $3,500 CEAF grant, which will be used to fund experiential outdoor learning opportunities taking place throughout the school year. Thanks to the grant, the 85 students in Grades 4 & 5 will be travelling to some 25 different sites to enhance their classroom learning. In September, students visited Gorge Creek, where they photo documented the ecosystem and plant and animal interactions, witnessing decomposers in action. They also had to analyze simple food chains and create a presentation. Later in the year, students will visit the Salmon Arm landfill, the sewage treatment plant and the water treatment plant. To learn about the strategies municipalities are implementing to reduce their ecological footprints, students will observe first-hand what is happening to waste and water in their community. The teachers have tied this grant in with the school district’s action research initiative, which gives schools some seed money to do a project which helps develop student engagement in learning. With the addition of the CEAF grant, the school was able to add in some further outdoor learning opportunities including cross country skiing, snowshoeing, biking and a trip to the Kingfisher Interpretive Centre.

Carmen Dawkins’ Grade 4-5 Class at Carlin Elementary Middle School received a $486 CEAF grant which will be used to connect students with local habitats. Dawkins explains her school is starting to explore the local and larger watershed, using the Shuswap Watershed Project as a guide. “We will give students two different field experiences to increase their knowledge of this watershed: one at White Lake, which includes following its outlet to Shuswap Lake, and the other at Adams River, which also flows in to Shuswap Lake but at a different location,” Dawkins says. “First-hand experience under the leadership of knowledgeable adults is a way to build community and further connect our students with local habitats. We will use local professionals who work in the field of biology and individuals who are developing expertise through participation in various local ecology projects or groups. We will travel to two different farm locations to illustrate to students how White Lake flows in to the Shuswap. We will visit the Adams River to expand students’ understanding of how broad the Shuswap Watershed is.”
“Learning about the turtles and the Turtle Study project at White Lake serves to educate students and parents that as a community we can all contribute to the health of our watershed. Having similar field experiences will build community within our student body,” she adds.

Eagle River Secondary in Sicamous received a $1,500 CEAF Grant to offset the transportation costs for various field trip opportunities. Principal Scott Anderson says the grant will allow the school to provide an even richer outdoor experience for students.
“We support a great deal of field trips to support and enhance learning activities in the ‘real world’, but this grant has been critical in increasing the number of trips, the complexity of activities, and the number of students we’re able to accommodate. Without the grant we would not be able to support to nearly this degree.”

“To date we have taken kids to pick vegetables from farms that were then donated to local food banks, participated in shoreline cleanups, science field trips to identify local plants and their traditional First Nations uses, the Encountering Wildlife program at the Kamloops Wildlife Park, local walking trail maintenance and cleanup, GPS mapping/ex-ploring/geocaching of local wilderness areas.”

All those involved would like to thank the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation and anglers, hunters, trappers and guides who contribute to the Trust, for making a significant financial contribution to support these projects.