WILD-Looking Outside to Inspire Students

No walls. No desks. No bells. For nine days and eight nights, the lakes and shores of Quetico Provincial Park was the classroom for 18 diverse secondary students. Thames Valley's new wilderness-based interdisciplinary leadership development course (W.I.L.D. for short) allowed students the opportunity to take what they learned in class and online and apply it to an authentic outdoor wilderness experience.

Quetico Provincial Park is a massive wilderness park in Northwestern Ontario, located a few hours drive, west of Thunder Bay. With thousands of lakes, rivers, centuries old portages, waterfalls and campsites you could literally spend a lifetime exploring the region.

"All of the learning in the course centred on students planning and implementing the nine-day canoe trip," says Erin Mutch, Environmental Learning Coordinator with Thames Valley and designer of the course. Students learned through a blend of in-class, online and outdoor learning where the students applied the course theories of leadership and planning. "Students had opportunities to plan all aspects of the trip, map routes, lead their group for a day, deliver their own lesson, and learn from one another in their diverse group," says Erin.

Thames Valley staff worked with Growing Chefs and the London Canoe Club to prepare the students and provide critical thinking and authentic planning opportunities. As well Voyageur Wilderness Programme, a professional environmental education outfitter, provided the services of an additional wilderness guide for the trip.

"Place-based learning offers an immersive opportunity to learn about the land and one another. The stimulation of a multisensory environment that is changing and evolving is hard to beat," says Erin. This realization was echoed by the students. Jerry, a grade 12 student from H.B. Beal Secondary School had never been in a canoe before his W.I.L.D. experience. When reflecting on his day as leader he acknowledges that all his text book reading and in-class preparation did not match up to the experience. "It was an in-depth look at leadership and responsibility and when it actually comes to the day when you're the leader- it's totally different than in the books we read."

Back from their trip, the students are seeing the benefit of the lessons they learned in Quetico. "I learned that I can do anything after being out there in the wilderness...even if I'm challenged, I can do it. It was just a really great experience," says Maggie, a grade 12 student from Central Secondary School.

According to Michael, a grade 12 student from A.B. Lucas Secondary School, "I learned how to persevere. There's only one direction to go, and that's forward."

The opportunity was funded with a Ministry of Education grant for Community Connected Experiential Learning, and with Outdoor Education Funding.

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