Children at Hans Helgesen Elementary pack mulch around tree roots on the school grounds. (Tim Collins/Goldstream Gazette)

A tip of the HAT to Hans Helgeson students

Program has taught about nature and responsibility

Students at Hans Helgesen Elementary school are already looking forward to their next opportunity to get out onto the school grounds and to do their part in making the world a little better place.

In 2017, nine classes at the Metchosin school learned how to help create a healthier world by combating the spread of invasive plant species, creating habitat for wildlife in need and generally being better stewards of the natural world.

It was largely the work of the Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) and stewardship co-ordinator, Paige Erickson-McGee, who came to the school as part of a program that saw HAT attend a series of schools throughout Greater Victoria to teach children about the fundamentals of nature.

“The children had so much fun with this program, and learned a lot about the world around them,” said Hans Helgesen principal Debra Stoutley.

“In the courtyard we have raised garden beds where the students grew tomatoes, peas, sunflowers, kale and radishes. They also grew a variety of edible indigenous plants with a strong link to our First Nations. It was fun, of course, but they also learned so much.”

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The indigenous connection was particularly relevant at Hans Helgesen as the school is the primary elementary school for children of the Hui’q’umi’num’ First Nation. Elders from the nation came to the school to talk to the children and explain about the plants and how they have traditionally been used by indigenous communities.

Through the HAT program, the children learned about invasive species and spent time removing both scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry plants from the school grounds.

In another section of the school property, they planted local, indigenous plants that would help feed butterflies near the play area. By observing the butterflies, the children were able to learn about the life cycles of the insects and were rewarded with watching them emerge from cocoons and take flight.

The children also learned about how their activities can, quite unintentionally, be harming plants.

“We have a number of arbutus trees on the property and when the children play around the trees they harm the root systems and damage the ability of the trees to survive,” explained Stoutley. “In this program they learned about how to create mulch and pack it around the tree roots to help keep these lovely trees healthy for future generations of children to enjoy.”

As a participant in the HAT program, Hans Helgesen will also be looking forward to participating in a school-wide assembly on Earth Day in the new year (Apr. 22) where they will celebrate their successes in creating the wildflower habitat where students, teachers and community residents will have the opportunity to learn about our local flora and fauna while providing shelter for natures pollinators.

At that time, Erickson-McGee will present the students with a trophy to celebrate their hard work. Appropriately enough, the trophy is an extra thick cane of blackberry removed by the kids, mounted and spray painted gold for the occasion.

“Although the trophy is nice, the real reward for the students is seeing the results of their work and gaining a new level of knowledge and respect for nature through the program,” Stoutley said.

More information on the HAT program can be found at

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