Outdoor education is woven into almost every grade level at STS. Picture teams of Grade 4 students navigating with maps to find “treasure” on our forested campus, Grade 7s learning the basic techniques of cross country skiing on groomed campus tracks, Grade 8s paddling a canoe (more or less effectively) with a partner, Grade 9s hiking through fall colours in the Rockies.
The purpose of outdoor programs at the school is “to help all STS student pursue wellness and ‘personal best’ through exploration and learning in the outdoors” (Outdoor Program Purpose Statement, 2006). Through outdoor programs, the School has as its goal to “provide safety-oriented, intentional and challenging activities that guide students in their growth at STS and beyond.”
Many alumni look back on outdoor experiences as highlights of their time at STS. They cite the cohesion they experienced with others (some of it gained through difficult experiences), personal development/maturation and new-found outdoor skills/passions as reasons for this.
The basis for an effective community, educationally or otherwise, is shared experience around a common purpose and in this respect outdoor experiences help foster the strong sense of community for which STS is known.
Awareness and involvement on the part of parents and the students themselves is central to ensuring successful achievement of safety, educational and skill related outcomes. Pre-trip briefings (for students, parents and staff) encourage and inform effective preparation helping set the stage for student success.
STS outdoor programs, including the small group interaction which occurs outside the classroom, give students and teachers new contexts in which to get to know one another. The fact that the staff supervising outdoor programs also teach in the classroom means transfer of learning, from the outdoor context to the school/home context, is effectively fostered.
Outdoor experiences can be ‘front loaded’ (preceded by sessions in the classroom) and then reflected on/built upon once students have returned to campus. Intentionally designed outdoor experiences also encourage students to take responsibility for their actions, be effective in their communication and take pride in the accomplishments and attitudes of their group. Such outcomes depend on the attitude of the student as much as on the design of the program; most students are quick to see how different their experience can be depending on their attitude and level of commitment.
In short, outdoor programs at STS give students an opportunity to grow personally, develop new interests and skills, see real-world application of educational concepts and develop a sense of belonging; the degree to which the opportunity becomes a reality is the shared responsibility of students, faculty and parents.