Until this year, 10-year-old Nidal had never even held a hand tool. Now, he is one of more than 900 students at Milton’s Anne J. MacArthur Public School who have embraced the opportunity to wield a hammer and junior hacksaw in the classroom.

“The tools are exciting to use,” he says, “and they can teach me skills to build bridges in life.”

Nidal and his classmates are on to something.

In January Anne J. MacArthur received a grant from the Halton Learning Foundation (HLF) to purchase hand tools and building supplies for the school’s junior and intermediate students. The tools are being used by teachers to enhance hands-on learning in science, math and French Immersion.  Long-term, says vice-principal Nadine Akers, the tools will be implemented into other parts of the curriculum.“Using hand tools to plan, design and build things provides opportunities for students to develop critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration, which are necessary 21st century skills,” says Akers. “The kids are  completely engaged in learning because it’s fun.”

Senior classes are also using the new tools to design and build everything from rollercoasters to refrigeration boxes.

“We’re learning math because we have to figure out how many sticks of wood we need and how long they need to be,” says Timi, a Gr. 7 student who is in the planning stages of building a dog house. “It’s really fun.”

The grant to Anne J. MacArthur was one of 70 grants provided by HLF to 59 HDSB schools this past school year. Corporations and individuals across Halton partner with HLF to make these grants possible. The grants help schools purchase tools and resources designed to engage students in learning through arts and music, mental or physical wellness, technology, media literacy and  environmental initiatives.

Lesley Mansfield, executive director of the Halton Learning Foundation, says many schools have needs for learning resources that are beyond their budget. “It falls to the school or community to raise needed funds, and not every school has that ability,” she says. HLF steps in to help close the gap.

“This project is not something we could have easily provided from our school budget,” says Akers. “It was really important to get the initial funding from HLF to get this project off the ground.”

Since then, Anne J. MacArthur’s school council has raised additional funds for the program.

“Parents are engaged in this too,” says Akers. “They’ve seen the results within the school year and they understand there are so many more learning opportunities.