On May 18, spring seeding began in earnest in the Oxbow area, but farmers weren't the only ones out on the land.
Had you visited the recently opened Oxbow Prairie Horizons school that day you would have seen 63 industrious Gr. 4 to 6 students carrying bags of top soil and buckets of peat moss, filling wheelbarrows with crushed rock, and planting trees, shrubs and a variety of perennials.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) sponsored the day-long Energy in Action project. While 10 projects are slated this year for western Canada, Oxbow and Maple Creek were the only two communities in Saskatchewan to receive funds under this program.
For more than two hours the students worked with their teachers, members of the community, and volunteers from five local oilfield companies to create an outdoor classroom. They covered a 30 foot in diameter area with crushed rock and dug holes for the plants. Perennials and shrubs were planted in four small garden beds, and six trees - a Linden poplar, a bur oak, a snow crabapple, an evergreen tree, a mountain ash and a Northern pin oak - were spaced around the area. Log benches were placed on top of the crushed rock.
"We picked an area southwest of the school that would be accessible to all students," said Pat Jeannot, vice-principal.
In March, kindergarten to Gr. 12 students moved into the new OPHS school. The former elementary school, which is next door to the new school, will be demolished in the upcoming months. That will mean more landscaping will need to be done later. The New School Fundraising committee has money set aside to pay for further work.
"This project ties into the school's future landscaping plans," Jeannot said.
Andrew Morden, from Patmore Nursery Sales in Brandon, worked with the school's landscaping committee to design the outdoor classroom.
"I think it will be a nice place for students when they go outside for science, math or other subjects. It will be a shaded area, with some sun," he said.
Local member companies helping with the project in Oxbow were Newalta, CNRL, NAL, Crescent Point and Petrobakken.
Gr. 5 teacher Misti Big Eagle-Bayliss said in the morning the Gr. 4 to 6 students had received classroom instruction from Inside Education about renewable and non renewable resources. They also learned about alternatives to using power, and what stewardship meant. The school was given many environment and natural resource-related books for their library.
Big Eagle-Bayliss thought it was fantastic that the students were involved in making the outdoor classroom, as they would use it often as they progressed through the grades. During class time they had talked about what the area would look like in a few years.
Joelle Lamontagne, Gr. 4, said by the time she graduated the trees would be "halfway" grown and everything would look very nice. She and classmate Jolene Sibley helped carry buckets of crushed rock from the big pile to the outdoor classroom area. They also put mulch around some of the shrubs. Jolene thought lots of people would use the area.
The job Brody McInnes Scott from Gr. 5 liked most was shovelling the crushed rock into buckets.
"It was really fun - it's work a man would do," he said.
Megan Brock said what she would remember about the project was how much fun she had had with her friends while they were planting the shrubs.
Keenan Weckend, Gr. 5, called the project the "best idea ever", while classmate Emmett Swallow said "it will be great for us to get to have some classes outside."
Dylan Scheerschmidt, a Gr. 6 student, said the outdoor classroom was "going to be awesome". He predicted that at his graduation he would tell everyone that he had been involved in helping make it.
Laura Perry, manager of Energy in Action CAPP, said the projects from school to school vary. One school might decide they want their students to built birdhouses and would like speakers to be brought in to talk about birds and their habitat, while others might choose to plant a garden. Like Oxbow, this year Maple Creek decided to install log benches for an outdoor classroom. They also set up rain barrels and planted vegetables and flowers
Since 2004, 59 companies and close to 2,000 company volunteers have participated in Energy In Action events in 55 different communities and 75 schools across Canada. Collectively, they have planted almost 6,400 trees and shrubs, and taught nearly 6,000 students, teachers and community residents about the petroleum industry and the benefits of careful resource development.