Mill Bay Elementary Nature School


In September 2018, Mill Bay Elementary will be re-opening as a district program focused on nature.

About the School

For thousands of years, the beautiful and varied land in the Cowichan Valley has been the “classroom” for learners of all ages. The new nature-based school at Mill Bay Elementary opening in September 2018 will build on this rich history, providing children with frequent outdoor experiences through all subject areas that allow them to play, explore, and experience first-hand the natural world.

Nature-based learning allows children to be naturally curious, and stimulates their sense of wonder and discovery. As we see in other popular nature-based programs, children will:

  • become more physically fit and confident;
  • learn from hands-on experiences;
  • benefit from the calming and inspiring effects of being in nature;
  • learn more about their strengths, interests, and challenges; and
  • develop confidence and ability to investigate and collaborate.

Our school will draw on the wealth of knowledge found right here in our community. Student learning will be rooted in the wisdom and experience of local naturalists, farmers, foresters, botanists, historians, and/or other local experts. All of the children will benefit from the knowledge of Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers.

The nature school will begin with up to 80 Kindergarten to Grade 3 students. The intent is to gradually expand to a K-7 school to allow the students to continue their elementary education at the school. When running at full capacity, the school will be able to accommodate up to 200 students. The school is welcoming and inclusive of all learners.

The school will be aligned with the BC curriculum and informed by the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning.

          “Nature is important to children’s development in every major way: intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically. Play in nature is especially important for developing capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and intellectual development.” – Kellert, 2005

About the Principal – Kim Ondrik

Kim Ondrik was born with a heart for social justice; a passion for understanding people, relationships and community; and a designer’s thirst for creating safe places for people to grow. Her quarter century of teaching has been honoured with the Outstanding Thesis Award at UBC Okanagan and the UBC Top 100 Alumni Award, as well as shortlisted for the Cmolik Prize for the enhancement of public education in BC, and the Ken Spencer Award for innovation in teaching and learning in Canada.

Kim is a daughter of Don Dell from Scotland and England and Nini Theilade from Ireland and Denmark growing up in Tsawwassen. She is a wife to Doug Ondrik, a sister to 2 brothers, a mother to 4 sons, an aunt to 5 nieces, a cousin to a hundred, and a friend to many.

Kim is pictured her with her very supportive family

Kim has been a co-creator of several innovative and inclusive learning communities in BC over 25 years, including The Friendship Company, The Garden, The O-Zone, and Vernon Community School. She has an undergraduate degree in special education and a Master of Arts degree in curriculum and diversity.

A mermaid at heart, Kim is very grateful to have found herself back to the sea again – “I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living” (Anais Nin) – taking up the new and very exciting challenge of co-creating an innovative place of learning and growth for all members of the Cowichan Valley community inspired by the transformative ideas embedded in pedagogical caring, servant leadership, First Peoples principles of teaching and learning, inclusion, and inspirited curriculum-as-lived – “For the child and for the adult seeking to guide him/her, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge & wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.” (Rachel Carson)

Registration Information

Registration for Kindergarten to Grade 3 will take place from Monday, April 30th until Friday, May 4th at the School Board Office (2557 Beverly Street, Duncan) during the hours of 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Please carefully review the registration requirements outlined below, as you are required to bring specific forms of identification to successfully register your child.

Just a reminder that the Mill Bay Elementary Nature School is not a catchment school, it is a district program. Enrolment is open to any child within the Cowichan Valley—including existing SD 79 students enrolled at another school—not just neighbourhood families.

Please note that due to the overwhelming interest in the program, we anticipate enrolment will exceed available space in most of the grade levels. As with our other district programs, if this happens we will be using a district-supervised lottery to place students into the program.

We ask families to please not line up for registration, as this will not impact your child’s placement in the program. Every attempt will be made to keep families together where there are siblings being registered.

Required Registration Forms

The following forms will be required to successfully register your child. You can either print and complete these forms at home and bring them with you, or you can fill them out at the board office. If you can’t register in person, you can also scan and email them ( with “Mill Bay Elementary Nature School Registration” in the subject line, or you can fax them to 250-748-6591. Information must be received by the deadline of May 4, 2018.

Parents or guardians will need to provide valid Proof of Age and Proof of Residency.

Proof of Age documents include:

  • Birth Certificate
  • Passport
  • Certificate of Citizenship
  • Immigration Canada documentation
  • Permanent Resident Card
  • INAC Status Card

Proof of Residency documents include:

  • Driver’s license
  • BC Services Card
  • Tax Bill
  • Rental Agreement
  • Utility Bill

**Please Note: Any students without Canadian documents and/or proof of BC residency will be directed to the Principal of International Education located at Cowichan Secondary School.**

More information on acceptable documentation is available on the Ministry of Education website.

Bus Registration Forms

If your child will require bus transportation to the school, please make sure you complete one of these two forms and bring them with you when you register your child. Bus forms will not be submitted until your child’s registration is confirmed, but this will help streamline the bus registration process as we start planning routes.

Questions & Answers

What if I can’t register in person?

If you cannot register your child in person, you can complete all of the forms and scan and email them to our receptionist at Please ensure “Mill Bay Elementary Nature School Registration” is in your subject line. You can also fax all of the required information to the board office. The fax number is 250-748-6591. The information must be received by the deadline of Friday, May 4th.

What if I can’t register during registration week?

We will continue to accept new registrations after May 4th. However, if the district has to implement a lottery process, late registrations will not be included in the lottery process and will be waitlisted. Parents are encouraged to make every effort to register during open registration week.

Why is the district using a lottery system, instead of allowing parents to line up for placement?

We have many diverse families in our community, who come from different socio-economic backgrounds and have varying family situations. We know that many of our parents are simply not able to line-up to secure their child a placement in a program, even if they want too. Out of a desire to ensure all children have a chance of participating in a district program like nature school, the district feels that a lottery is the fairest process.

What if I am trying to register a sibling group and a lottery is required?

We will make every effort to keep families together. This is part of our district practice, and we will apply that to this school as well.

When will I find out if my child was successful in being registered at the school?

Once registration closes on May 4th, we will know whether we have to move to a lottery process or not. The lottery will take place the week of May 7th, if required, and parents will be notified of the outcome by phone within one week of the lottery draw. If families are offered a spot in the program, they have 24 hours to accept or reject the space. Unclaimed seats will be offered to waitlisted applicants, in the order they were placed on the list.

Why is the school only going to be K-3 to start?

There is a fairly significant amount of work that needs to be done at Mill Bay Elementary, and we can’t guarantee that it’ll all be done by September. We do know that we can guarantee we will have space ready to go for K-3 students. This is also a new program, and we want to give ourselves time to build and grow the program organically.

What if my child is already registered in another school, can I still register them?

Yes, any child in the Cowichan Valley is welcome to register their child at the nature school. This includes students who are currently attending another school in the district. There is a spot on the registration form that asks you to indicate your previous school—please ensure you indicate where your child is currently registered.

Will busing be provided for all students, if needed?

Busing will be provided if needed for students within the central or south area of the district. Unfortunately, due to the logistical challenges of getting kids from other areas to school in the south end on time we won’t be able to accommodate pick-up or drop-off in the following areas: Lake Cowichan (and beyond), Crofton, Chemainus, or Maple Bay. However, students from these areas who require transportation to Mill Bay could catch the bus at our central pick-up zone, which is at the School Board Office (2557 Beverly Street) in the morning. They would then be dropped-off in the afternoon at Cowichan Secondary School. For any additional transportation questions, please contact our Transportation Department.