During her time as a Grade 1 teacher at South Nelson Elementary, Teresa Olleck encouraged her students to find their “magic spot” out in nature. And once a week she would march the kids down to the Hendryx Street Forest Garden to visit it.
“Learning takes place everywhere,” Olleck told the school board at a recent meeting, where it was announced she will be retiring.
She screened a short movie created by local filmmaker Amy Bohigian to share some of her experiences.
Olleck said she was inspired to start looking outside her four walls for learning opportunities that would engage her charges, as part of the district-wide push to broaden the scope of the traditional education model, and that’s when she came up with the idea for weekly outings to the park.
“Digging up actual worms is way more fun than reading a book called Digging Up Worms,” she said.
“It took me a long time to realize that it’s not difficult or expensive or dangerous to take kids outside or off school property.”
In fact, she counted the steps it takes to transport her class there: 220.
And that led her to another realization: parents love to help out, with Bohigian being a case in point. Once the routine was set, parents started coming out of the woodwork to volunteer.
The students decided to take ownership of the park, taking it upon themselves to keep it clean, well-organized and aesthetically pleasing.
And each week they would try new activities.
According to her students, the walk was well worth it. When the Star met with 7-year-old Jackson Zaytsoff, he was hanging a clay bird that he had created from a tree limb.
“We’ve been building nests, doing stuff with the animals, and right now we’re all hanging birds. We painted them and put shiny stuff on,” he said.
Zaytsoff said the highlight of his week is Thursdays, when Olleck brings them to Hendryx.
“There’s so much space to learn, there’s so many more things that will grow and there’s so much stuff to do like making tea and building nests and pine cone feeders.”
Gala Thomas, 6, agreed.
“I just like being out in nature,” she said, in her magic spot. “Seeing all the bugs and things, and the trees. I like to feel the wind. Yeah, actually I just like being outdoors.”
She showed the Star a craft she’d constructed with the help of Olleck and parent volunteers.
“The adults put wet concrete in a pan and then I decorated it with little square things and shells and little marbles and gas jewels,” she said.
After a screening of Bohigian’s film, the school board thanked her for her contribution. Superintendent Jeff Jones praised Olleck.
“Thank you for sharing with us some of the learning you’ve experienced. I want to commend you a career well-spent.”