Six Bowden Institution minimum security inmates were at Lacombe’s École James S. McCormick School Friday to devote their time to build an outdoor classroom. Photo supplied by École James S. McCormick School.

Bowden inmates build outdoor classroom for Central Alberta students

“It gives the offenders a sense of purpose that they’re giving back to the community – helping out.”

Twenty inmates are helping to shape the future of nearly 550 students at a Lacombe school.

Fifteen medium security inmates at Bowden Institution and five from Drumheller Institution have been building an outside classroom at École James S. McCormick School since last fall in their prison facilities.

The school is closed for the summer but six inmates helped out Friday moving the raised flower beds, pruning trees, and removing asphalt at the site.

Bowden Institution warden Tracey Farmer, who was with the inmates Friday, said the community project allows the inmates to learn new skills and make a difference in the community. He said it helps the inmates transition into the community when they get out of prison.

“It gives the offenders a sense of purpose that they’re giving back to the community – helping out. It shows them the positive things they can do back in society,” said Farmer. “They just feel better about themselves in contributing back to community.”

The Indigenous inmates will build a teepee with an elder, as part of the project, which would bring them closer to their roots, said Farmer.

Christine Graves, École James S. McCormick School assistant principal, said this is a win-win situation for everyone.

“They’re donating back to the community, and they’re loving it too, it’s such a good work crew here and they know it’s for students so they’re really putting in 100 per cent into their work,” said Graves.

She said the need for an outdoor classroom has always been there but the cost was always a concern for the school.

She said the partnership between Wolf Creek Public Schools, the school council, and Correctional Services Canada started last fall.

The outdoor classroom will help students with gross motor and social skills while spending more time outside learning, said the assistant principal.

“We’re a pre-K to Grade 3 school so they all learn through play time and games so that’s a big part of the curriculum.”

She expects the project will be completed by next fall. Once complete, the outdoor classroom will consist of a gazebo, a teepee, three playhouses, sandboxes, bird houses, and a shed.

The inmates are working through a rehabilitation program with the Correctional Service of Canada.

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