A recently completed space at Merritt Secondary School is there to give any student peace of mind, in a variety of different fashions.

“It’s set up for kids to calm, and wash off,” said Principal Leroy Slanzi, with an underlying meaning of not just washing off physically, but mentally as well.

The Lower Nicola Indian Band provided a grant to help out with a project at the high school, as an advocation initiative for Indigenous mental health. From there, it stemmed out to be the beautiful landscaped scenery on the south side of the building.

The idea came from a calming waters feature at Nicola-Canford Elementary, a school that also has close ties to the LNIB.

Hardscaped and softscaped gardens, greenhouses, vegetable beds, chicken coops, and even an eagle’s nest all tie into the overall surroundings. The project is a joint effort between the local Thomson Lawn Care and Sunshine Farms in Kelowna.

The beauty of such a diverse environment is in the fluidity of it – the vegetables need to be tended to, the chickens need to be fed, the gardens need to be upkept – all of which will be part of a unique outdoor curriculum for all grades alike at MSS.

“We’re trying to get kids tied into and interested in that vocational programming around horticulture, culinary arts, food awareness, Indigenous plants…we’re going to be growing our own shaman’s tobacco and sweetgrass that we use for offerings,” said Slanzi.

In the vegetable gardens, squash, peppers, and tomatoes are grown and picked by students.

A pit house already sat on the property, traditionally used for First Nations people to storytell. The pit house at MSS features a fire pit in the middle surrounded by tables and seating, where elders can teach lessons and educate the youth on their traditional culture.

“So now this is all tied in,” said Slanzi. “This is our Indigenous calming space.”

The Science Department is spearheading the upkeep of the project, using aspects of environmental science, horticultural science, and civil science.

Aside from the hands-on learning aspect of the new space, the area provides students, especially those at risk, with a chance to calm their minds and souls through spiritual techniques. Slanzi mentioned one technique where students can grab a pebble from near the man-made creek that runs through the project and wash it off and throw it back into the water.

“It is like they’re releasing with that pebble whatever negativity or trauma that may be troubling them.”

A plan is also in place to provide a water feature where students can ‘wash off’, both physically and spiritually.

“For Aboriginal Peoples, the water is sacred.”