AWESOME LIFE EXPERIANCE: Local teacher and police officer go with young men from our community on a canoe trip through Algonquin Park.
This July the first “REACH for Community Change” outdoor adventure based learning opportunity took place at CW Jefferys C.I.A group of students were invited to participate in a very different, very focused and very intense summer school experience. The students were offered the opportunity to earn a full credit in Outdoor Activities by participating in a number of adventure based activities including mountain biking, rock climbing, swimming, canoeing and the culminating experience a 6 day canoe trip through Algonquin Park. Some students were able to recover other credits, within the normal summer school period as well as the credit.Perhaps more important and more powerful than the accelerated credit accumulation is the relationships and bonds that were developed between all participants of the program. The REACH for community change program intents to build relationships between students and a plethora of community leaders and adult role models who work in the community with the youth. In this inaugural program experience Officer Oscar Montoya joined Nic Mills in facilitating all aspects of the course. As the program progresses and grows more community leaders will be asked to be involved in the programs and participate fully in all activities.Approximately 30 students were invited to participate, however summer jobs and other activities meant that some students could not join the program. In the end there were 16 students enrolled in the course, however only 11 participated in the 6 day canoe trip.The summer school program began each day at 8:00am with 2 hours of swimming and canoeing instruction in the C.W. Jefferys pool. From approximately 10:30 until 12:00 Students were given lessons in packing, clothing, map reading, weather forecasting, tent set up, cooking with camp stoves, and portaging. After a quick lunch break, students were introduced to a variety of experiences, including rock climbing and mountain biking.By Friday July 5th all participants had brought in all clothing and equipment for the canoe trip, and it along with all the food and other required equipment was packed into canoe pack, backpacks and barrels. On Sunday July 7th at 8:00 am 11 out of the expected 14 participants arrived at the school and started to load the school bus. The bus was heading North on HWY 400 by 9:00 am.The group was on the water and paddling up Lake Opeongo by 2:30. The 1st day was a very easy paddle designed to test, and rearrange canoeing groups to create the most evenly balanced groups of paddlers. We arrived at our camp site before 4:00 which allowed for on site and hands on tent set up, fire wood collection, fire building lessons, and a change to swing into the lake for a swim from a rope swing.Each day the group woke up between 5:00 and 6:00am, had a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, or pancakes, packed everything back up into the packs and loaded the canoes. All participants joined in a final ‘campsite sweep’ for any forgotten items and any garbage that was left behind. The students were taught minimal impact camping techniques throughout the trip, and were taught the importance of “leaving only footprints and taking only photographs.During the remaining 5 days of the trip the students experienced and handled almost everything a canoe trip can throw at you. On Monday July 8th after a 4 hour paddle, the students experienced their 1st portage, a 2200 meter walk with all our packs and canoes through the rolling forest of the Algonquin Highlands (although the students may have a different description). This Portage lead us to Happy Isle Lake and our Monday night campsite. On Tuesday we continued north, completing a 348 meter portage into Merchant Lake and then a 1840 meter portage from the North end of Merchant into Big Trout Lake, with the wind picking up we made camp on the south east side of Big Trout. Wednesday brought a new challenge for our canoe trippers...the dreaded ”head wind” the wind had not died down over night and was steady and fairly strong from the north west – coming from where we wanted to go to. The group really came together, supporting one another, canoe loads were adjusted to take the head wind into account as were the organization of paddlers. Even though the * the group took a non-direct route across Big Trout, using channels and islands and the irregular shoreline to stay out of the wind, the head wind was a major challenge to deal with. The waves were large enough to make the canoes bob and bounce around, at times the waves would crash over the side of the canoes, each canoe needed to bail out water when we stopped in sheltered areas. The spray from the wind and the waves was constant, all the canoe tripper were soaked throughout the day. The toughest part of the day was the entrance into White Trout Lake, with no natural features to hide behind or to block the wind the group just had to put their heads down and paddle hard directly into the wind. Needless to say even with the great effort that everyone put in, the head wind slowed our progress dramatically. We shortened our route for that day and camped on white Trout Lake instead of McIntosh Lake. This was the right decision to make for that day, and our hope was that Thursday would bring only a light breeze and we could make up the distance.Thursday arrived with bright blue skies and a very light breeze, a perfect day for canoeing, and it was a good thing too; This day we would have to make up for our stalled progress yesterday, which would be about 2 hours of paddling plus two shorter portages (745m and 510m) It also meant that we would have to do the “Ink Lake” Portage as well, a 2320 meter portage into Tom Thomson Lake. By this time in the trip the group had really come together, everyone knew what needed to be done, and how and when to do it. We had lunch at 12:30 on an Island in McIntosh Lake and started the Ink Lake portage at 2:00 pm. All but two of the participants and one canoe where finished the portage by 4:00pm. This portage was very tough for these two young men, it was near the end of the trip and they were tiered from all the activity. However with encouragement and support from the group and from each other and allot of determination and perseverance they managed to carry the canoe across the whole portage.Around our final campfire that night the students were asked to reflect on the trip and to write in their logs, and to share with the group one positive characteristic for every group member. Under normal circumstances this might be a difficult task for young men of this age. But after a week of paddling and portaging and working and living together these young men were easily able to see positive things in each other and to share them with the group. All the young men had very positive things to say about Officer Oscar Montyoya and Mr. Mills who had taught, supported and encouraged all of them throughout the experience.As it turns out Canoe trips end up being great analogies for life. Just like on this canoe trip – no matter what we face – you must keep going. Teams can share the load and be more successful than individuals, sometimes life is like a 2300 meter portage with lots of bugs trying to bite you, sometimes life is like a beautiful day with blue sky and a lite breeze at your back, sometimes you get a great tail wind to help you along, and sometimes you just have to put your head down and paddle hard for a while into a strong head wind. The student are completing and submitting their photo journals over the next few weeks, their written journals were handed in at the end of the trip. All the students who attended the program successful completed their PAD301 credit. One student also recovered a PAF301 (fitness) credit, another two students were able to make arrangements with their summer school credit recovery teachers – to take some work with them on canoe trip – this way they were also able to do part of their english credit recovery credit. This is a model that should be utilized in the future, as it engages the students in multiple ways, uses multiple intelligences theory and application and leads to greater credit accumulation.So much learning took place for these young men – it may take a while for them to internalize and process it all, but not only did they learn and experience new things, they grew and matured and developed very close bonds with a police officer from 31 division and a teacher from their high school, you can’t grade or mark these relationships, or the maturing process or the self confidence self esteem and the no quit no stop attitude these young men developed from their experience.The REACH for Community Change program, as developed by Sgt. Hicks, Officer Oscar Montoya and Nic Mills will continue in the 2013 / 2014 school year.