Mike Kelly

Recently I was biking in the Provincial Park and noticed a yellow school bus parked adjacent to the road. I made my way along the Lazy Lizard and came upon a group of teenagers. “Oh, sorry!” one quickly said. “Let us get this out of your way,” another chimed in, moving equipment and waving me off as I pedalled by. It made my ride, both their demeanour and the initiative. How cool that Fernie Secondary School’s (FSS) Leadership Class is spending time, working on our network of trails?

Mike Kelly is the new VP at FSS, and the individual who thought working on the trails would be a great opportunity for this class. He approached the FTA with a plan for the students to work with the Maintenance Committee every Tuesday once the trails were workable, and of course the board responded with an enthusiastic, “yes!”

From Nova Scotia, Mike originally went to school to study Outdoor Recreation “I didn’t always know I wanted to be a teacher,” he tells me. From there he studied and went to work as an electrical linesman. After which he worked in management at MEC, until he finally went to school to become I teacher. “I discovered that I wanted to do something that made a difference.”

While teaching in Black Diamond, AB Mike met Megan of Outward Bounds. Six months later, he moved to Fernie. “My first job was at the Guide’s Hut, and I’m still there coming on ten years,” he tells me. He was a TTOC and then got a position in Elkford for four years before taking the VP position in Sparwood.

“I felt invested at that school,” he says. “The students’ kindness grew. The connection to the community grew. The idea of collaborating to achieve something big… we were really great at having these real, grand projects.” When asked how this was accomplished, he says it’s all about empowerment and providing the freedom and confidence to allow people to take risks and go off course. “Then you find something you might not have otherwise. It fosters creativity and curiosity, as teachers are doing stuff they are passionate about, and kids feed off of that.”

Last year he was transferred to Fernie. And admittedly, he was a bit intimidated.

“Anytime you start a new adventure, you’re a little nervous and excited, not sure where the trail is going to take you.” His goal for this first year is all about fitting into the flow at FSS and as a whole, the school is really invested in connecting with the community. For example, art teacher Dan Whillans had his students put together an exhibit for the Arts Station working with professional artists in the community. The Art of Dinner was on exhibit for the month of June. The leadership class and their work with the trails alliance follow the same model, working with seasoned trail builders to reach the end objective. This rolls right into the school’s efforts to foster kindness in the school. “We model that, through authentic conversations with students and getting to know them and understanding what they love to do. We encourage success in all sorts of things, ensuring they know they don’t have to fit into the standard box.”

Additionally, they want to encourage students to learn and be creative in the outdoors - play space learning. “What better place to write poetry than by the river, in the trees, looking at the mountains? We’re in a pretty awesome place here,” Mike says. Being “all in” in whatever you’re doing, fully immersed in the activity at hand is also something highlighted. Especially now with technology at the forefront. “You can use nature and teach kids to be fully present and engaged, and they can see how relaxing that can be.”

Mike recognizes and appreciates that there aren’t many communities our size in Canada that have the diversity of strengths that we do. “These people, who are all in to make it a better place. Because it’s a draw to live here, we draw people who are experts in their field. Good teachers, and good people in the community to help us along the way.”

Mike and the team at FSS use our environment and the strengths available in Fernie to foster curiosity and a thirst for knowledge, understanding, and connectivity. Maybe that’s something we can learn from and work towards on our own quests to regain our natural, child-like wonder.

1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? Ten years ago this fall, and it was Megan.

2. Who did you first meet in town? I think it would have been Eddie Plant, Henry Barrett, Luke Nelson and Jared Marshall… through Megan as she was living with Jared.

3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? I think that it was a big playground.

4. What keeps you here? Can I say playground again? And back to what I was saying, people are all in and immersed in what they are doing.

5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory or pastime? It’s so obvious to me, biking and skiing. Those powder mornings at the Deer Chair.

6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? Ooh. I like cool, crisp mornings. Not a specific time of the year. Just because it’s refreshing, and a great way to start the day.

7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in 5 years? I hope that it stays as a rustic playground. I don’t want it to get overdeveloped, but stay like that favourite down jacket we all have… it’s high performance, with duck tape and it’s a little frayed. But you love it so much, you keep it.

8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? I start it at like 100km an hour because I try to get as much done as I can so I can go play. I pop out of bed, shower, breakfast, done so I can start ticking things off.

9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I’ve attended eight different universities. I’m always curious to learn something new.

10. Quote to live by: Always keep playing!