Naramata Elementary gets environmental boost

Jeff Wheeler - Submitted photo
Jeff Wheeler
— image credit: Submitted photo

Though the Naramata Conservation project has faded away in the nearly three years since the death of founder Jeff Wheeler, his vision is still managing to carry on.

Last week, Craig Henderson, the former project director for Naramata Conservation, announced that the Naramata Conservation Fund of the Tides Canada Foundation has made a grant of $5000 to the Okanagan Skaha School District. The money is earmarked for natural environment and local heritage educational programs at Naramata School between now and 2015.

“We just thought the years have passed, let’s apply something, somewhere and in keeping with the environmental education mission and Jeff’s love for the school and its role in the community,” said Henderson. The Naramata Conservation project was formed in 2006 by financial services executive Jeff Wheeler and Tides Canada. The vision was for Naramata Conservation to lead local environmental education and stewardship initiatives and to become a community-based land conservation charity. However, Jeff Wheeler died in May 2009 following a traffic accident, before his vision was complete.

“This sort of work was one of our visions in the community and the school has certainly been instrumental in his children’s lives. Jeff is a father of three daughters, all of whom attended Naramata Elementary. Being in a community this size and being a very small school — with 85 students these days — it does tend to connect parents very closely,” said Henderson. “You do get involved and you roll up your sleeves and you are active in the field trips when you can be. He was the epitome of an involved parent when he could be.”

Henderson has been working with the Wheeler family and Tides Canada to form a community endowment fund.

“Jeff was both a visionary and a generous philanthropist. He had a long-term vision to develop a charitable project for the stewardship and preservation of the Naramata ecosystem and he contributed generously to that effort,” said Henderson. “While the endowment is not ready to be fully activated yet, we thought the time was right to make an interim investment in our children and our community.”

Henderson notes that Naramata Elementary staff and students already have an environmental focus for their studies and projects.

“They’re doing a lot already. That’s so encouraging,” said Henderson. “Every school struggles, every Parent Advisory Council, to find the dollars to fund what they need to do, whether it is field trips of equipment. We just hope this takes off some of that funding pressure on some of these programs that are related to environmental education, learning about nature and a bit of community heritage as well.”

The Naramata Elementary PAC will consult with school staff to determine how to spend the funds. PAC president Peter Ord says the funding will further strengthen the students’ connection between the conservation of the environment and the heritage of Naramata.

“We are fortunate to live in a place where local volunteers and school staff work together to connect the students with the natural heritage that surrounds them,” said Ord. “For example, we have a community garden on the school grounds where the kids grow and harvest vegetables; our students annually observe the spawning Kokanee and learn first-hand about the restoration of vital creek habitat; and this year there is an emphasis on field trips and studies about water and its role in our ecosystem. In recent years, our kids have been active with heritage-related community art projects, such as the new glass tile mosaics outside the school and the Centennial banners around the village.”


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