Pupils at St Francis’ Primary School could be the first in Northern Ireland to avail of an outdoor classroom.
It’s part of a unique outdoor learning facility available to all 842 pupils on the Francis Street site.
The school can now boast an outdoor learning environment similar to those at Oxford Island and Castle Espie though not on the same scale.
Principal Anthony McMorrow explained: “About a year ago our Friends of St Francis’ group recognised the potential in a copse at the back of the school. Parents Stephen Moore and Ciera McCrory compiled a bid to Awards for All and were successful in obtaining a grant for £10,000.
“Work started in the spring of 2013 with much of the grant swallowed in ground works such as clearing, cutting back trees, drainage and paths. After that the school contributed a matching £10,000 to provide the facility which now exists.”
Ciera McCrory, the driving force behind this venture, added: “We were eager to make the woodland an exciting and enticing place for children to learn outside the classrooms so we have provided an outdoor classroom, a stage, a bird hide with binoculars, earth covered piping, balancing tyres and a pond. When everything is established we hope that wildlife will thrive there and the children will be able to observe and learn.”
Andy Giggs from Oxford Island Discovery Centre attended the opening day with his team and after working all day with the children in identifying minibeasts and building natural wood shelters. He stated: “This is definitely a one off. I have never seen this in any primary school and we will be keen to bring children from neighbouring schools down to work with them too.”
Catherine Cleave from the RSPB, who was also present at the launch with her team to hunt bugs and explore the natural environment with nets and jars, said,” This is a fantastic outdoor learning environment for children and I can’t believe it is within the grounds of the school.”
Aidan Heaney in Primary 7 captured his view very succinctly in saying, “This is better than my X box.”