New Myrnam School – Spring Showcase
Students were overjoyed to share their ongoing projects (such as transforming an old school bus into a net zero tiny home) with their parents, members of the community, and area dignitaries during the New Myrnam School’s Spring Showcase on April 27.
Dignitaries included MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, Myrnam Mayor Donna Rudolph, County of Two Hills Reeve Don Gulayec and Councillor Murray Phillips. Representing Inside Education, Executive Director Steve McIsaac, and Education Program Lead Laura Pekkola were also in attendance.
Principal, Danielle Eriksen, said the Spring Showcase features “How we do things differently here with our students” We get a lot of support from our partners, and for those that are less familiar, this is a way to show people what is happening in their backyard. The children are immensely proud and this is a celebration of their work.”
With a declining population and declining enrolment six years ago, a vision began through past teacher and current Assistant Superintendent, Keith Gamblin, that has become a shared vision. By doing things this way, Assistant Principal Robert Tymofichuk said the children become highly engaged.
“This isn’t your normal school. I’ve been teaching since 1990, and this is really personalized; it’s a teacher’s dream. With the projects, there is always something they can be interested in. When your realize what can happen from education you’ll never go back,” said Tymofichuk. “I always said this is not a school, it is a family; the children look out for each other.”
New Myrnam School oversees Myrnam School and the outreach and homeschool centre(MOHC). Now their enrolment is over 200 students and even have some that overlook the Nile River in Egypt while taking class online.
Located night next door to the school, the Construction and Technology Education Centre (CTEC) is owned by the village, and the school owns a six kilowatt grid tied solar ray on top of the building. Throughout the past six years they have undertaken substantial projects and Eriksen said, “The projects are student led, inquiry based, and hands on. Students go on field trips, research and determine what would work for the school.”
In year one, they created a greenhouse, wind turbine and bioreactor from scratch; in year two they received an Energy Champion award; and in year three they wanted to reduce their carbon footprint so they created a hydroponic system. In year four they converted a fleet of golf carts destined for the landfill into renewable energy vehicles; in year five they began converting an old school bus into a net zero tiny home; and in year six, they began researching how to turn the CTEC facility itself into a net zero electricity facility with a minimal budget.
The students have built raised beds, a green house, and an Eco classroom. The children came up with a thermal storage system made from water tanks for their greenhouse .
“It worked so well that they had to come up with ways to reduce the heat, as it got to be 52 degrees Celsius in the winter,” said Tymofichuk. “The Eco classroom was kid-designed and kid-constructed, and we had more students showing up on snow days to help with it than regular days. Vaulted trusses were designed using Trigonometry.”
Their hydroponics system started with one tower made by the junior high environmental sustainability class out of a small model design. Then they opted to use space blankets to reflect the light. Now they are able to use less light and get by with half the amount of electricity.
“After word got out in the community, $10,000 in donations came in and they were able to expand the project to three towers complete with an auto-doser to test the pH levels as the plants grow, as well as water and feed them. In May, the students will be mentoring kids from the County of Paintearth who want to create something similar. This system uses no soil, no pesticides, and has no insects so it produces extremely healthy food,” said Tymofichuk.
They also have a greenhouse sale planned for June 1. The high school offers horticulture classes as well as a Green Certificate Program through Lakeland College. Students learn the nutrient requirements for each plant, and when there is a problem (such as when the hoses get filled up with roots), they figure it out.
New this year is cosmetology being offered at the high school level. They got some used rusty chairs and the students fixed them up. One is even doing fashion studies.
In the main shop of the CTEC building, is where the children did their frame-up restoration for the old golf carts. The original batteries corroded the metal, but the new ones have absorbed glass mat batteries all sealed with no off-gassing. They reupholster the seats, learn welding skills, and go from something disposed to having a solar panel on top.
“On a full charge, normal ones have six batteries, but the students did endurance testing and realized with three batteries they could reduce the cost of ownership and still go eight kilometres per charge. They sold two to the County of St. Paul who use them at campgrounds and are extremely pleased with them. These golf carts are quiet and because there is a solar panel on top, they can charge while parked or driving,” said Tymofichuk.
Eriksen said Inside Education provided a lot of the funding for their projects so a couple of years ago, a couple high school students attended their Cultivate Conference and started creating a model to a scale of a chicken coop.
At the time, the village did not allow livestock, so the students consulted with the village to try to change the bylaws. The coop is now complete with a manure tray that can be pulled out for cleaning. They are currently waiting to hear back as they were the first to submit a livestock license with the village in order to have chickens in the schoolyard.
A stationary electric bike is set up so that for every minute of pedalling it produces one minute of charge for an LED light bulb or phone charger.
“We take it for granted. You learn to appreciate electricity,” said Tymofichuk as the elevated effort to keep it powered they would not be able to maintain for long.
Some students are working on restoring antique snowmobiles.
With the varying projects over the years, students have practiced communicating with utility companies, and have even learned how to write grants.
“These children have really gotten out of their shell,” said Tymofichuk.
Wanting to build a net zero tiny home, when the students started searching for a bus to purchase, they were grateful to have central office end up donating this one. The bus is mechanically fine, but cosmetically damaged, with holes in the door panel, holes in the fender, and the front bumper twisted. Students learned to weld, took a sledge hammer to straighten it out, they used J-B weld, sanded and painted the exterior. The countertop and cupboards were donated, and students built chairs with storage for the batteries. There will be a solar panel on the bus, and a carbon-neutral stove will use wood energy for heat.
“They even built a bathroom area, and yes, even that started with a model. After trying a jigsaw and getting a rough circular edge, the students were not satisfied and opted to use a CNC router,” said Tymofichuk.
The bed folds up, and they placed an LED light fixture on the side to not take away headroom. The bus completion may be into next year as they will still need to configure meters for the solar panel inside the bus.
Just in case they didn’t have enough projects on the go, during this past winter junior high students were challenged to move the Eco classroom to a new location down the alley. They brainstormed how to move it with a skid and levers and roll it on fence posts. They created a makeshift tow rope from a tug of war rope and pushed and pulled, moving the fence posts until it found it’s new home.
The CTEC is used mainly by junior and senior high students but Grade 5/6 even have a shop class of their own, building welcome signs, soapbox carts etc. While learning about electricity, they made mini 9V battery cars and one even made a drone. They are shown the tools and the safety to do the job, but select items they want to make. One student is making a coat rack with a bear climbing up a tree, and Tymofichuk said, “For someone doing that kind of cutting, she could be a heck of a wood worker one day. They are the most amazing children; I’m mind boggled by their potential.”
To find out more details and view videos of their projects over the past six years, you can visit https://www.newmyrnamschool.ca/.