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Citizenship - Skills for Success



The Outdoor Classroom

The Environmental Garden

The Environmental Garden at George P. Nicholson School officially opened in the fall of 2008. It serves as an outdoor classroom and enables our students to make learning connections right in their own back yard. This special facility supports many natural science, social studies and technological components of the Alberta curriculum. The garden also makes learning come alive by connecting our students with hands-on resources and community expertise. It helps us to broaden our students’ perspectives and plays an important role in our work to achieve superb results from all students.

The Environmental Garden project was supported by Community Partners and Environmental Founders. Their legacies as founding educational leaders are acknowledged on a beautiful recognition plaque, which is prominently displayed. They are each a valued partner in education.

We appreciate the support of our School Council, Parent Society, students, staff, parents, community members, and numerous volunteers for helping us to create this beautiful Environmental Garden.

We have a space that will help us support and extend the curriculum, an essential, to a school that believes in the value of inquiry.

Environmental Garden – Curriculum Connections and Use


The curriculum connections for kindergarten students in the Environmental Garden are as follows:

  • develops an awareness of the importance of sharing the responsibility for caring for the environment
  • becomes aware of the importance of protecting the environment

Our conversations with students focus on how our work together helps care for the environment. We include the environmental garden in our exploration of nature, how beautiful preserving nature can be. We use concrete examples from the garden to support this:

We appreciate the important contributions of individuals at home at school and in the community

  • What are the benefits of working cooperatively with others?
  • In what ways can people contribute to a group or community?
  • In what ways can we work and play in harmony with others to create a safe and caring environment?

 To support synergizing (Habit #6) we work cooperatively to ensure the upkeep of the environmental garden. We examine how working together brings us together as a community and how it makes us feel. We have an assigned area to be responsible for.

Grade One

We are so fortunate at our school to have a beautiful Environmental Garden which enhances our children’s learning. The students in Grade One have opportunities throughout the year to use the environmental garden’s space. Some of the ways we use the space include:

  • Observations of Seasonal Changes
  • Observing plants in their natural habitat
  • Creative writing
  • Sketching

Together we keep this beautiful space thriving as a beneficial learning environment.

Grade Two

We are appreciative of the Environmental Garden and the opportunities it provides for enhancing the Grade Two students’ learning. We investigate small flying and crawling creatures and float our handmade boats in the pond for science. Throughout the year, we also use the garden to read, sketch, and do buddy activities.

Grade Three

The grade 3 students and teachers enjoy using our Environmental Garden throughout the year. The garden is used for a range of activities that support our teaching and learning. A few examples include teacher read aloud times, buddy reading, writing activities in a quiet setting, nature observations and sketches for art classes, as well as looking at soil samples in science. Our favourite moment in the garden is when we release our Painted Lady Butterflies in the spring after having studied their life cycle. The garden provides a wonderful backdrop for photo opportunities. The grade 3 students are encouraged to take great pride and ownership of this lovely outdoor space. We are so fortunate to have a wonderful garden. Thank you to our GPN School Community!

Grade Four and Grade Five

The Environmental Garden is integrated in many ways at the grade 4 and 5 level in its capacity as an outdoor classroom. For example, during Art class, students use the “Look-Draw” technique to sketch various natural forms. Students also have many opportunities to engage in journaling activities to enhance the learning in Language Arts and Science that may complement the Grade 5 unit “Wetlands and Ecosystems”. In the Grade 4 unit “Plant Growth and Change”, students nurture plants through planting, watering and weeding. The Environmental Garden is a wonderful place to gather with your class, and engage in reading and synergizing activities.

Photos of a nature art small group activity that grade 4 students completed in September 2013.

Grade Six

The beautiful grounds at GPN, including the Environmental Garden, Amphitheater, and surrounding area, provide for a variety of real world learning opportunities for our students. The Grade Six Science curriculum includes a unit on Trees and Forests and with the wide variety of trees on the GPN grounds, we are able to meet all of the curricular objectives for this unit. To meet objectives in the Art and Language Arts curriculum, the enclosed garden and surrounding area provide inspiration for sketching, journal entries, and poetry and story writing, and an oasis for reading alone, with partners, and with cross-grade buddies. Opportunities to volunteer in the garden by weeding, repositioning the rocks, and removing snow from the paths help students meet objectives in the Health and Social Studies curriculum which include volunteerism and students taking action in their community. The garden and grounds provide an area for students to participate in a diverse variety of Physical Education activities. Spending time in GPN’s outdoor spaces helps students learn, stay active, form relationships, grow as citizens, and develop respect and an appreciation for the role that nature plays in their lives.

Environmental Garden Maintenance

The GPN School Council is responsible for the maintenance and has an Environmental Garden Committee to oversee this area, coordinate weeding work, and contact companies to do the repair work on paving stones, pruning, etc. There is currently a maintenance account funded through grants and donations to access to cover costs incurred. The GPN Parent Society has made a commitment to provide money each year so this fund does not get depleted. No educational dollars from the school budget can be used for the maintenance of the Environmental Garden, however students and staff assist in caring for the area along with numerous parent volunteers.

 Environmental Garden History and Acknowledgements

Like the planting of a seed the planting of an idea can grow into something magnificent. Eight years before our school was built, the idea, that seed of creating an environmental garden was first planted.

A group of us that included staff from Edmonton Public Schools, architects, builders and individuals from the neighbourhood of Twin Brooks helped with the planning and building of this school. We talked about all that was needed in a school to support the amazing inquirers that would attend. We all believed that one essential need was a space that went beyond the walls of the school. A space that would support the curiosity of our learners and that would encourage them to explore, question, wonder and reflect. A place that would make the curriculum come alive for our children. That was the beginning of planting our seed, our idea, called an Outdoor Classroom.

At our school’s official opening in November 2002 we received our first contribution to our environmental garden from the Board of Trustees of Edmonton Public Schools. Then for a while, the growth of our garden was quiet.

Like a seed, a good idea needs to be nurtured and sometimes, to make it magnificent and reach its full potential, it needs a master gardener or maybe a few master gardeners. Two years after we opened, our school found just that in a group of very committed individuals from our School Council. Leading that committee was one of our teachers, David Sobolewski, an active member of this community and at that time a parent of one of our students.

As a result of the nurturing of Mr. Sobolewski, his Environmental Garden Committee and the efforts of many, we see how that seed of an idea has grown into a legacy for our school, our district and this community. Today, and for th


The GPN Logo

Description: The logo is a stylistic representation of a person reaching for the stars.

Rationale for Logo

The energetic brush strokes used to represent the person convey the dynamic, creative energy of the staff and students at George P. Nicholson School The stars above the person signify that education inspires a sense of wonder. The act of reaching for the stars symbolizes our desire to explore and question, our inquiry into things unknown, and the effort required to achieve our goals and dreams.

The two convergent brush strokes represent the twin brooks of Blackmud Creek and Whitemud Creek, after which the neighbourhood derives its name.

The logo also implies collaboration among the various partners of the school community through its use of several elements to create a larger whole.


School History

George P. Nicholson

By Mike Kostek, Archivist,

Edmonton Public Schools

Archives and Museum


The George P. Nicholson School is the eighteenth Edmonton Public school to be named after a school trustee, but the honour being bestowed on the namesake is for much more than his contribution as a school trustee.

After enjoying a long and illustrious career as a teacher, principal, curriculum co-ordinator, Alberta Teachers’ Association executive and senior administrator, George Peter Nicholson became the first Edmonton-born educator to rise to the lofty post of Associate Superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools.

Born on January 12, 1932, he attended Alex Taylor, Queen’s Avenue and McCauley Schools before enrolling at old Victoria High School. Classmate Ernie Wynychuk remembers his friend’s precociousness, his carefree spirit and his lexicon of witticisms. “Switzerland in the summer and Bermuda in the winter,” reads the caption accompanying the photo of the witty young scholar in the 1949 Vic Yearbook.

A graduate of the University of Alberta, receiving B.A. and B.Ed. degrees (with first-class standing in practice teaching), Nicholson was appointed to the staff of Parkallen School in 1956. It was at the large south-side school that the young teacher developed an avid interest in Alberta Teachers’ Association politics. Staff discussions with future A.T.A. provincial presidents McKim Ross and Art Yates whetted his appetite and stimulated his interest in professional and political matters. Clarice Hansen, whose classroom was adjacent to Nicholson’s at Parkallen School, remembers him as a witty colleague and a strong disciplinarian who helped her control some unruly physical education classes. “He was an excellent teacher and had a real sense of humour.”

After five years of teaching at Parkallen School, Nicholson was successful in his application for a Canadian Education Association teacher-exchange posting to Seattle, Washington. Another international teaching assignment beckoned when he was granted leave of absence to serve with the Department of External Affairs as a teacher-advisor and curriculum builder at Jinga College in Uganda.

Following his international teaching experience, George Nicholson’s career advanced rapidly. Because of his exceptional teaching skills he was appointed a junior high school mathematics-science co-ordinator. A year later, in 1967, he was named assistant principal of Hillcrest School, and in two years became principal of the modern west-end school. Subsequent to Superintendent Roland Jones’ re-organization of the administrative structure of Edmonton Public Schools in 1969, Nicholson was asked to head the highly profiled Administrative Services Department as its assistant superintendent. A year later he was appointed Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services.

In the late 1970’s, he helped to pioneer school-based budgeting as one of the six area-associate superintendents who were to be responsible for its implementation. While as associate superintendent he served as the Edmonton Public School Board’s chief spokesman in salary negotiations for all staff and often endured some very intense deliberations as negotiator.

After 14 years as a senior central office administrator, George Nicholson returned to the principalship, this time at Harry Ainlay Composite High School, where he welcomed the opportunity to again be directly involved in the education of young people. He retired after eight years at Harry Ainlay, in 1992.

“How impressed I have been with George Nicholson’s remarkable contribution to education in his capacity as a leader of teachers, and then even more impressive leader in education.” - Alberta Supreme Court Justice John Bracco.

His sometimes dour and serious exterior hid a softer inner persona. This was obvious during his yearly visits to elementary schools as “Saint Nicholson.” Retired Harry Ainlay school secretary Rose Demaniuk was one of the Nicholson elves who accompanied him when he visited elementary schools where he would enthrall kindergarten classes with his presence – and his presents. “George Nicholson is a big man with a big heart. He was one of the best principals I ever worked for. Many times when he spoke to a student assembly, he would receive a standing ovation,” recalls Rose.

An acknowledged wordsmith with an intense addiction to crossword puzzles, George Nicholson often amused and astounded people with his linguistic prowess. Summarizing his educational career in a short letter to the Superintendent of Schools he wrote, “I am grateful for the many opportunities I have had to share principles, trials and tribulations with fellow teachers whilst searching for the pluperfect pedagogical paradigm.”

Following his retirement, after 36 years in education, Nicholson continued to search for that elusive paradigm through four successful elections as a public school trustee. Unopposed in two civic elections, he was elected Chairman of the Board by his colleagues for five successive years. He also served as vice-chairman and chairman of the Education and Conference Committees. For five years he was a member of the Board’s Community Relations Committee and also served on the Planning and Policy, District Priorities and Superintendent’s Search Committee.

Among his many endeavours as Board chairman and trustee, George Nicholson can point with pride to his role in initiating programs that help students achieve to the best of their respective abilities. The Early Reading Initiative, designed to ensure that all students are able to read at grade level by their third year, was introduced by Nicholson in 1997 and has generated positive results. His more recent endeavour, the Numeracy Initiative is being implemented to improve skills in mathematics.

A strong proponent of Canadian studies, citizenship and character education, Trustee Nicholson was the prime mover in the stirring “O Canada!” introduction that now precedes all Board meetings. George Nicholson has also worked hard in the service of children at the provincial level through involvement in a number of task forces and committees. In particular he was the very influential roles he played on the provincial School Facilities Task Force as a member of the steering committee. As a result of his work on this committee and his advocacy for improved school buildings, there has been a heightened awareness across the province of the need for facility upgrading. In fact, this work ultimately led to the allocation of over one billion dollars across the province to improve school buildings.

A very perceptive tribute to George Nicholson and his many contributions to education was composed by the late Alberta Supreme Court Justice John Bracco, a former Edmonton teacher and public school trustee. “How impressed I have been with George Nicholson’s remarkable contribution to education in his capacity as a leader of teachers, and then even more impressive leader in education. He was a worthy adversary and a loyal and effective colleague.”

One of Edmonton’s most prominent psychologists, Dr. Wes Penner, a colleague and friend of Nicholson’s for three decades, adds another interesting dimension to the analysis of his friend. “George Nicholson is not an easy read. He is proud of his Greek ancestry and one cannot help but wonder whether his sometimes disputatious interactions, not unlike that of Socrates, are intentional or in fact carried in his genes – perhaps some of both. Nicholson, as he is fondly referred to, has arrived as a consummate educator”. Generosity, perceptiveness, intellect and commitment are abstract nouns that might well summarize the Nicholson psyche. The fine traits exemplified by its namesake are a promising portent for the staff and students of the George P. Nicholson School.

Mr. George P. Nicholson passed away on July 16, 2011 at the age of 79 years.