Imagine experiencing your reading and writing. Imagine three hours of gym class in your back yard. One of the silver linings for Elkford Secondary School’s English 7 and PE 8-12 this year was a change in structure of the timetable during this pandemic (two, three hour classes each day). This year there has been more time to work with local stakeholders on outdoor projects, journey into the wilderness, and learning outside in the community. The running themes for these classes have been to embrace the local environment and community as well as focusing on developing survival skills within the Elk Valley while supporting the mental health of students in nature.
All English seven students in the third quarter (February to April) had the opportunity to take their learning outside. Students were sprinting up mountain sides in snowshoes, hiding in tree wells and building survival fires. They had time to experience their creative writing, connect with their novel’s protagonist as they both went through some of the similar hardships. The introduction to these classes was a project where all students had the opportunity to get into small groups, collaborate and work together to build a quinzhee (a winter survival shelter) which acted as a focal point for much of the quarter. These experiential activities were scaffolding students’ creative writing skills and literacy skills as they began to create their own survival story and read their class novel, Hatchet. Time was blended between the brick mortar classroom and the wilderness classroom.
Experiential learning and community adventure also extended to the grade 8-12 PE classes. Senior students ventured into the Lizard Range, summiting Spine Back from the Base of Old Growth in Fernie (12km). Grade 9s Cross-country skied up to the Wild Cat Cabin in Elkford (16.5 km). All students had a chance to build shelters and learn the fundamentals of fire building and survival. Senior students supported local clubs and associations within their community; they climbed the local Wapiti ski hill and cleared brush from the mountain side as well as painted and stained the Elkford Nordic Society’s Boivin Cabin. With three-hour classes there was time for traditional PE activities, as well as enriched learning and positive experiences.
In order for much of this to be possible and accessible for all students, there was tremendous community support and sponsorship from the Elk Valley and school district. The Fernie Adaptive Ski Society donated an adaptive Sit Ski to help students with mobility issues. Craig Zure from Fernie’s Summit Works volunteered to modify our Sit Ski to make it more stable for trail use. We were also given climbing rope, carbineers, climbing harnesses and skis from the community of Fernie to help pull the Sit Ski into the local wilderness. The Elkford Lions Club and the United Steel Workers provided funds to support travel to our locations. The Wapiti Ski hill and the Elkford Nordic Society, not only gave our students the opportunity to experience a sense of stewardship in their community, but also donated tools and materials to the cause. SD 5 supported this program with bussing and equipment to venture into the local backcountry.
There has been a lot of struggle during this pandemic; however, there has also been some silver linings, and people coming together to support the learning of students. After working with many students this past year, there has been some considerable ups and downs. With these adventures and educational activities, there was a hope that there could also be some positive and lasting memories made during this challenging time.