Nine students with Take a Hike, an alternative education program that engages at-risk youth through a unique combination of activities, volunteered their time on Thursday, Oct. 17 to help students and staff at Blueberry Creek Community School with gardens that younger children tend to year-round.
“This is part of new destination trips that we’re trying to establish at Blueberry Creek,” said Rebecca McDonnell, environmental director for the school. “So that community and school groups can come out to the school and do some experiential learning about farming, planting food, sourcing local food and then preparing it in our kitchen as well.”
McDonnell said they want to develop more programming around the idea and introduce more age groups. She said youngsters in pre-school and daycare are doing a lot with planting and harvesting.
“It’s exciting to see,” she said. “We didn’t know if teenagers would find it cool to harvest potatoes and carrots and make their own soup. For them to be able to do some of the work that we need done is mutually beneficial. Hopefully, it’s the start of more.”
McDonnell said they receive Community Link funding, working with people such as School District 20 director of student support, Kim Williams, to run some of the programs.
“While we’re not a school, we are still very much connected to the school district,” she said. “This is not costing anyone money today. We have work we need done, they do volunteer work as part of their program and it’s fantastic for us to get an older group out here.”
Take a Hike teacher, Gareth Cryer, said the nine students volunteering on Thursday are part of the West Kootenay arm of the Take a Hike Hike program, based out of the Kootenay-Columbia Learning Centre in Trail — otherwise known as the Trail Middle School.
Cryer said students from grades 10 to 12 are often referred to the program, through a screening process, for a variety of reasons.
“They might have mental health issues, anxiety, depression, or those kinds of things. The school just might not be the right place for them; they may be involved in drugs and so the school offers an alternative for them to get their schooling in,” he said. “Today, they are volunteering [as part of the program]. We harvested some vegetables from the garden that they’ve got going in and they’re transplanting some vegetable boxes from an area where they were neglected. There’s some heavy digging work involved.”
Cryer said the students have three and half days of academics at the school, one day outdoors (which can involve anything from rock climbing to skiing to adventure hiking) and then half a day volunteering in the community. The volunteering aspect is a core part of the program, he said.
Cryer said students also given assignments based on the time spent in the community or participating in group activities. Days such as the one spent at Blueberry can be used to teach skills related to agriculture or the environment, for example.
The program has two teachers, Cryer and Tracey Billett, two youth workers, an outdoor specialist (who keeps everyone safe while participating in activities) and a therapist.
“This is a partnership between School District 20 and the Take-A-Hike Foundation in Vancouver. It’s a golden opportunity for the West Kootenays,” said Cryer.