“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
The words of 19th century poet Ralph Waldo Emerson are often seen on graduation cards, inspiring tomorrow’s adults to be leaders not followers, and create their own life journey.
The reflection is especially germane for a group of five local Take a Hike students who have shown the educational mountain can be conquered and lives can be changed on their unique road to graduation.
The “no ordinary classroom” in Take a Hike, based in East Trail’s Kootenay Columbia Learning Centre (KCLC), embraces youth who’ve struggled in class or dropped out of school at some point. Through adventure-based learning that includes leadership roles, therapy, individualized academics, and community involvement, the education program has about one-third of its class graduating this year.
While all five students have a clear-eyed vision of diverse future aspirations, they all agree on one thing – none of them would be wearing a cap and gown June 18 if it wasn’t for the Take a Hike program.
“I wouldn’t have been as successful as I am now and in all honesty would still be doing things I shouldn’t be,” says Stuart Adshead, 18, a two-year Take a Hike graduate. “Before this I dropped out of school, went somewhere else, and dug a deep hole I couldn’t get myself out of.”
The program opened his eyes to a different way of learning, and through volunteering time, wilderness experience and classroom support he’s gained confidence and developed a five-year plan that includes work and college.
“There are a lot of teens that don’t want to volunteer because they see it as not worth it,” said Adshead. “But it’s been more than worth it for me because I’ve met people, talked with them and heard their stories.”
His favourite memory of volunteering, as well as classmate Maddie Caron’s, is the day the students formed a working line at the Salvation Army Thrift Store.
“Volunteering is really cool,” said Caron, who lends her cooking skills to Chateau Manor residents every Monday. “The ladies had bags of clothes shoved into the back room and we had to pull them out and put them into their truck. So we all lined up, passed the bags along and threw them in the truck. It was fun, people were falling over and we were all laughing.
“And it really helped them because we had the job done in a few hours, when it would have taken them all day.”
Caron,19, has been in Take a Hike for three years, and says the program kept her engaged because classroom pressure was lessened during outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking and canoeing.
“I didn’t want to be here when I was just in class,” she said, “I feel like in Take a Hike we aren’t sick of school and didn’t skip school because we are not stuck doing work all the time. We get to experience a lot of things, especially for me, like outdoor trips. I wouldn’t go out and do half the things that I’ve tried.”
One of the biggest challenges Caron and Adshead faced was last year’s end-of-year trip to the Rockies.
“We had to hike 8.3 kilometres in and do that carrying 30 or 40 pounds on our back, plus food,” said Adshead. “It was a challenge just to get to the location, but we made it.”
He said that’s when the leadership lessons came in, because the students encouraged each other not to give up when the journey became difficult.
During the various outdoor task-based adventures, teamwork is key to overcoming obstacles.
“I’ve noticed through the years our group kind of gets bigger and we have more support and people to trust,” said Caron. “There’s different things we have to go out and do and some people aren’t okay with it. So it’s really neat how our group all comes together and makes sure everyone is okay.”
While the Trail Times was interviewing the students, two more Take a Hike grads, Jordi Card and Billy Campbell, joined the conversation. Both agreed with their classmates’ insight.
“Take a Hike helped me out in a big way,” said Campbell. “I was constantly that kid who was missing school to go off and smoke pot, or just hang with friends.”
He said following an event that put him in a downward spiral, the 18-year-old hit rock bottom.
“My dad opened my eyes and made me see I can’t do anything in life without an education, so he suggested I come down to KCLC,” said Campbell. “TAH was great for me because I felt cooped up in a regular classroom. So giving me a program where I could go outdoors regularly and do things with my education, was perfect for me.”
For Jordi Card,20, the innovative program boosted her self esteem and self assurance.
“Before Take a Hike I was that scared little girl sitting in a corner,” she said. “Now I have all the confidence in the world to speak my mind, or say ‘Hey no, that’s not right.’”
Before the program, Card said she set her future sights low. That’s turned around after four years at KCLC and two years in Take a Hike.
“Before I was thinking I could start something like a maid business,” she said. “Now I am looking into becoming a process operator, working up at Teck, and making sure everything in the plant is running smoothly.”
Whether the grads’ goals of becoming a dental assistant, flight attendant, mechanic for custom motorcycles, tradesman or equipment operator stay the course or change with life experience, one thing is certain. Their futures are bright because of the Take a Hike program and dedicated teachers and staff at KCLC.
Caron says Mr. Gareth Cryer’s classroom support pushed her to complete tasks even when she didn’t want to; Chris Gibson’s one-on-one sessions with Campbell carried him through difficult times; and all agree Andy Holmes’ outdoor learning adventures were the glue that held them together.
“I was talking to my dad recently and he said, ‘Jord, you can do way more that I ever could do, because you have an education,” said Card. “I know that. But I also know I wouldn’t be graduating if it wasn’t for this program.”
The KCLC-based program is currently taking applications for the fall. For information on Take a Hike Youth at Risk Foundation, visit takeahikefoundation.org or contact Chris Gibson at 364.1274 ext. 270 or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Take a Hike Program began in the Vancouver school district with a goal to engage at-risk youth with alternative educational opportunities which combine outdoor activities such as hiking and snowshoeing with the development of communication and problem-solving skills. The program focuses on youth aged 15-19, with a purpose to assist students who have been unable to achieve success in mainstream classes to develop the positive behaviours and attributes they need to become healthy, productive citizens.
The Take a Hike Youth at Risk Foundation is a registered charity with programs supported by donor dollars.