The new outdoor focus will allow students to learn in and from nature and discover both what the Earth can teach people and what people must learn about caring for the Earth, added student council member Nolan Kewageshig.
"It will promote outdoor activities so we're not always cooped up in a classroom," Kewageshig said. "I think it will inspire a love of nature that will last a lifetime."
That's a primary goal, Russell said, along with getting kids outside, active and away from video screens. The initiative also heeds the importance nearby Saugeen First Nation residents place on the Earth and the environment, he added.
About 45% of the students at the school are from the nearby Saugeen First Nation.
The wording is not certain yet, but it's likely the entire school will base learning next year around the phrase "the Earth teaches." It's what Russell calls an "enduring understanding."
Along with social studies and science, both relatively easy to tie in with outdoor/environmental learning, teachers will also program their lessons in language, mathematics and other subjects around the enduring understanding.
"The bottom line is we want all curriculum areas to have connections to the out of doors," Russell said.
It means using the outdoor environment as a teaching venue, as a subject and as a tool for learning.
"Nature becomes the manipulative that we're using, the the teaching tool," Russell said.
The school principal praised his student council for leadership during the fundraising said the community has been completely behind the dome project.
They've already seen how keen students have been on such outdoor projects as the community garden.
Heather Pletsch, whose 25-year-old daughter is long finished with G.C. Huston, initiated the garden project just three years ago. Three of 31 plots are planted and maintained by students as part of what she sees evolving into "an outdoor learning campus" at the school.
Pletsch said Friday [in June], she has studied nature deficit disorder, and sees evidence of it at the school. But as soon as kids are outside working on projects, their marks go up, behavior problems disappear and attendance improves.
"Children don't spend time in the outdoors as they used to," Pletsch said. "And when they do, the benefits are huge, huge, huge."
Russell also said getting kids outside, away from screens, while still teaching what's proscribed in the Ontario curriculum is an important aspect of the shift at G. C. Huston.
"We truly believe that we're raising a generation of children who are spending way too much time indoors," Russell said in an interview. "We talk the talk in terms of saying you need to be outside and then at schools we keep them inside, keep them on screens."
When the kids get outside, their learning changes, he added.
"We see it with our students. There's a higher level of student engagement if what we do has an outdoor focus. When our kids are involved in hands-on work out in the garden, a lot of learning happens but there's a high level of engagement and very few behavioral difficulties."
The school is also acquiring classroom sets of rubber boots and rain jackets and he expects the outdoor projects will go ahead whatever the weather. Parents will also have to adjust and dress children accordingly.
Russell said the new building and the shelter it affords is an essential, but small part of what overall will be a completely new way of thinking about how to teach core curriculum through a school-wide, shared, collaborative theme.
"Having the facility and the landscape around it says, OK we've toyed with it, we've experimented and now it's time to take that leap of faith and jump off the deep end," he said. "It's a big pretty big shift in instructional strategies. It's going to be a heck of a lot of work for our teachers and staff members to retool every area of curriculum. It's huge."