WHAT AN INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE!

A Calgary Teacher Attends Safari Club International’s AWLS Ranch

It is true, education is changing. Our world is full of new technology, students can google almost anything and have the results in mere seconds. With more devices, we have less communication, less interaction with the real world around us. In a world where we are often looked at by the number of ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ we have on our social media, many students are not interested in working through challenging scenarios. It is often easier to ‘push the reset button’ so we can shut off rather than face the adversity. In a world of texts and Instagram, immediate gratification is our struggle and teachers have big challenges ahead if they are to compete in today’s world.

Role models are often looked at with who is current and trending online, often they are viewed from afar with admiration, but that’s where I come in. I am extremely fortunate to be the Outdoor Education Teacher for Westmount School in Okotoks. I get to interact, relate to, challenge and connect with our students in person. For the past six years, my colleagues and I have been taking students into the mountains to reconnect with nature, their peers, and, most of all, themselves. They learn about communication, patience, building resilience, confidence, empathy, creating real connections and teaching about conservation and the environment. Kananaskis has become our classroom, and unofficially we refer to it as “Mountain School.” Students learn more in three days of backpacking than they do in weeks of a traditional school setting. Our students gain valuable, practical experiences in the outdoors. Whether it be hiking along a river, fishing in an alpine lake, or skiing down a trail, the Outdoor Education program has been growing at a consistent pace. As another way to supplement this important and impactful learning, we offer our Junior High students a Hunter’s Education Option. Our students learn about wildlife management, fishing techniques, develop their archery skills through NASP certified program, firearms safety, and they have opportunities to apply these skills in practical, hands-on learning. Through the outdoors, we are seeing that our students are engaged, confident, learners who build new skill sets and are learning to appreciate our incredible Alberta backyard.

Last fall, through a chance meeting, I was approached by David Little, the president of the Calgary chapter of the Safari Club International who offered to sponsor me with the opportunity to attend the American Wilderness Leadership School in Jackson, WY.

The experience was nothing short of remarkable. For a full week last summer, I had the opportunity to learn with many North American experts in the fields of conservation, hunting ethics, firearms safety, stream ecology, NASP recertification, wildlife management, and so much more. The AWLS experience I had was nothing short of amazing!

I was excited to attend and have since brought back many new ideas to our program to continue the positive impacts we see in our students, and our students are better for it! I want to share how grateful I am to have participated in this experience and support from David and SCI. I look forward to many years of continuing to instill a great love for the outdoors in our students. Whether it is teaching a student how to nock an arrow, untangle a snag from the riverbank, or summit a peak, I know that we are continuing to build a love for the outdoors, one student at a time.

Thank you, SCI, for your generous support. I know that it will have a lasting impact on our students and the greater community.–Steven Kotowich Outdoor Education Teacher

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