Starting in 2017, about 50 Grade 10 students will be hiking, snowshoeing and paddling their way into a new way to learn in North Vancouver, after the school district recently approved plans to go ahead with a new outdoor education academy.
Educators in North Vancouver began looking into the idea after students, parents and other community members expressed interest in an outdoor program, said Arlene Martin, district principal who oversees academy programs. North Van is an ideal location for an outdoor program, she said, because it’s close to the ocean, mountains and backcountry areas.
The goal of the outdoor program will be to introduce students to a variety of outdoor activities, and foster learning about environmental sustainability as well as leadership and critical thinking skills, said Martin. The program will also complement existing outdoor school programs currently offered as two- or three-day user-pay sessions for elementary school students at the school district-owned Cheakamus Centre owned by the school district near Squamish.
The semester-based outdoor academy will combine a set of academic courses with outdoor trips that could include day trips to Lynn Creek or Lighthouse Park, sea kayaking or snowshoeing along with longer overnight trips that might include wilderness hiking or lodge-based ski trips to areas like Manning Park, Sechelt Inlet or Clayoquot Sound, said Martin.
Martin said the program being planned in North Vancouver draws inspiration from a number of other outdoor programs, including the Trek program offered at Prince of Wales high school in the Vancouver School District.
Grade 10 was chosen as the best year for students to take part in an outdoor academy because they are physically strong enough and mature enough to handle the program without being pressured by grade 11 and 12 graduation requirements, said Martin.
The number of students will be capped at 56 the first year, which will include two groups of 28. On the longer excursions, students will be further divided into groups of 14. Because the program will be semester-based, the outdoor academy will be run out of Sutherland secondary – the only high school that runs on a semester system.
The academy will be run as a fee-based option, with annual fees in the range of $2,000 to $2,500, said Martin, which will pay for items like rental of larger equipment.
Martin said the school district is hoping to attract a wide variety of students to the program, including international students.
“We’re hoping to have students from all our secondary schools,” she said.
An information session for parents and students will be held at Sutherland on Sept. 27 and applications will be accepted in November. All students who apply will also be interviewed in January. Students who are accepted into the program will be notified in February.
Because many more students are expected to apply than there will be spaces for, all students who qualify for the program will have their names placed in a lottery for available spots, said Martin.