Bayside Middle School Principal Wendy MacDonald, left, gets some help taking the wrapping off the peace pole that will be going up Sept. 21 at the school’s new outdoor classroom and peace garden. (Steven Heywood/News staff)

Brentwood Bay school set to open first indigenous outdoor classroom this month

Bayside Middle School’ learning space and peace garden dedicated to intercultural friendship

A new outdoor classroom is almost complete at Bayside Middle School in Brentwood Bay — all that’s left is some planting and the putting up of a WSANEC First Nations carving and cedar peace pole.

A special ceremony will be held Thursday, Sept. 21 at the school to officially unveil the space. As it’s also United Nations’ International Peace Day, a cedar peace pole will be erected in a nearby peace garden. The pole has been fitted with plaques reading “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” inscribed in 12 different languages — all of which are spoken fluently by various students at Bayside — and including French, English and SENCOTEN, the indigenous language of the WSANEC people of the Saanich Peninsula. That language is taught at Bayside by teacher Ivy Seward.

Also to be unveiled that day is a Saanich Moon carving by local indigenous artist Charles Elliot.

The school believes this is the Saanich Peninsula’s first outdoor classroom and peace garden.

In the local language of area first nations, the space is named NEPENKAUTW — or Place of Teaching. The outdoor classroom is available to all students at the school, with a focus on using the space for learning about environmental stewardship and intercultural friendship.

Melissa Austin, district vice-principal for indigenous education, says the design of the space is inspired by the Coast Salish people, with a contemporary look.

“Our hope is, the SENCOTEN students will drive this space, share their culture and language and even plant indigenous plants on the site,” she said.

“It’s really about bringing indigenous education to every student.”

The project was funded by a $15,300 grant from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation — and was one of only two schools chosen in B.C. to receive the funding this year. Bayside’s Parent Advisory Committee donated $4,000 and another $25,000 was in-kind support from local businesses and residents.

The unveiling ceremony takes place at the school on Sept. 21 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. A free barbecue begins early, at 5 p.m.