This year, Lake Cowichan School has been offering students a fresh take on environmental education, with a new course called Outdoor Stewardship 11.
The unique once-a-week class, held for two hours every Wednesday, takes grade 10, 11 and 12 students outside to teach them the value of outdoor recreation. LCS principal Nicole Boucher, who teaches the class, typically leads students on a new hike each week, where they learn about outdoor ethics, trail etiquette and how to prepare for emergencies.
“It’s critical to get kids outside as much as possible,” Boucher said. “They can look at what we’re doing in the class as a lifelong pursuit, but they wouldn’t have known it was there without being introduced to it first. They’ll have that experience for the rest of their lives, and it’s something that carries a definite health benefit.”
Though typically on the trail, students do spend some time in the classroom as well. A recent project had students doing independent research of nearby trails, such as the Juan de Fuca Trail, learning about topography, mapping and orienteering along the way.
The Cowichan watershed is also a frequent topic in the classroom. Hiking, as well as other activities like kayaking and in-class research, make up what Boucher referred to as “the three environments:” mountain, ocean and forest/wilderness.
While Outdoor Stewardship is mandated by the school district, LCS is one of the first, if not the first, to implement the class, and most of the hikes take place on Lake Cowichan trails.
Unsurprisingly, Outdoor Stewardship has been a hit with students, filling all 14 spaces in each semester so far, including one international student who has taken both classes. Boucher said that about half of the students are experiencing even some of the closer trails for the first time, and returning on the weekend with friends and family.
Boucher said that the class has also been met with praise from some parents.
“Parents say the kids all have a lot of fun on hikes, and that it’s just the class the more outdoorsy kids need,” Boucher said. “One dad even tagged along with us for a day. The feedback so far has been super positive.”
Students have some input on where to go, and some of the trails that the class has covered so far include Sombrio Beach, Bald Mountain, Maple Mountain and Genoa Bay.
As for the future of the class, Boucher said she’s unsure if the class could expand past its weekly schedule, despite its popularity.
“I don’t know if I see it expanding, as we’re limited by staff and timetables,” she said. “I don’t have enough time in my timetable to be gone twice a week, but we could look at adding a second section with another teacher.”