Classroom project has many rewards

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Students Katie Swan, from left to right, Cole Pitcher and the Community Foundation’s Caitlin Gajdostik pose in front of the ‘big cheque’ with R.I. Baker Middle School classmates in the background.


A sense of self-satisfaction is usually enough reward for a lesson well-learned, but a class of Grade 6 students at R.I. Baker Middle School had the added benefit of watching the fruit of their efforts come to life.

Vice-Principal Lindsey Hagen’s class is celebrating the results of its practical writing exercise, a Youth in Action grant of $2,000 which will benefit Coaldale dog lovers. They marked the occasion with community partners and some furry friends Friday where the money will be spent on improvements, the town’s off-leash dog park.

Hagen said her students “were over the moon” when they learned of their successful grant application to the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta. They were one of four Palliser schools and 13 organizations which shared in a total of $14,500 in funding intended to inspire youth to create their own projects or initiatives.

The grant-writing exercise not only provided some invaluable lessons for the students and touched on curriculum covering several different subjects, it was a means to give back to the community.

Hagen says developing community is something important to her as an individual and a teacher and she hopes to instill some of that focus in the minds and habits of her students.

“When students learn a genuine sense of community at a young age, there is a likelihood that they will continue to grow into involved community members,” she said. “They learn their own thoughts and concerns can be transformed into actions that make a difference.”

Student Katie Swan said this particular assignment was definitely more interesting than others she’s worked on.

“This was probably my favourite assignment because I know that I’m actually making a difference with it, rather than just writing something on a sheet of paper and handing it to my teacher,” she said, while petting her pooch Dianne, which will frequent the dog park for many years to come.

The students’ selfless efforts were not lost on the Town of Coaldale, which will put the money towards trees and benches at the dog park. Cindy L’Hirondelle, Development and Environmental Services Manager, said the park is well used but the enhancements wouldn’t have likely been possible without the school’s help.

What truly makes the project special was the fact it was created and driven by community youth, said Stephanie Wierl, Coaldale’s Community Services Manager.

“To see the willingness and drive to better the community at a young age is a good indication of how the Coaldale community will continue to thrive and we are so happy to partner with the students on this project,” she said.

The school project arose from research Hagen is working on with David Slomp from the University of Lethbridge in exploring writing as problem solving. When students are exposed to a writing task they are unfamiliar with, such as a grant application, critical thinking skills come into play in breaking down the specific language used and in particular, the audience.

“Often for students the teacher is the primary audience but when you extend the audience outside of the school, it gives a heightened sense of purpose and authenticity which has many positive implications for student engagement and motivation,” she said.

Hagen said the project also provided several other learning opportunities, and checked off “all the boxes” of Alberta Education’s goals of creating engaged thinkers and ethical citizens with an entrepreneurial spirit.

“For us, there was a strong connection to the Social Studies 6 curriculum as students were at the time exploring local government,” she said, adding the exercise required the students to have important social interaction with a number of adults. “Of course, where money is involved, there is math and with trees comes science and guidance from arborists.”

Palliser schools received a total of $5,500 in Youth in Action grants from the Community Foundation, which is celebrating its 50th year of service.

Huntsville School received a $2,000-grant to install an outdoor volleyball court and seating area. The addition should encourage greater activity among the junior high class in the Iron Springs school.

The $1,000-grant approved for Coalhurst High School will go towards a water bottle refilling station. Not only will the addition encourage students to stay hydrated and bring refillable bottles instead of throw-away plastic bottles, it will reduce the lineups which result from students filling bottles at traditional water fountains.

Coalhurst Elementary School received a $500-grant towards the cost of putting on a school-wide colour run. The activity will promote school spirit and encourage healthy eating and active living.

At R.I. Baker, students brainstormed community needs and possible ways to address them. They came up with several possible projects and discussed the feasibility of each with partners including the Town of Coaldale, the Community Foundation and the U of L.

The students saw enhancements to the off-leash dog park as a means to encourage dog owners to exercise and socialize. It’s hoped the trees and benches can be added this spring.

For more information on the Youth in Action grants go to the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta website at

The Community Foundation manages charitable gifts from donors to create permanent, income-earning funds which are distributed to charities. Since it was founded in 1966 it has funded more than $8.4 million in grants throughout the region.