By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A new year brings new opportunities for students to learn and for educators to think outside the box. The 2022-23 ‘Take Me Outside for Learning School Year Challenge’ has several schools and students across the Kootenay-Boundary region engaged in outdoor learning, and loving it. The initiative allows teachers to commit to taking teaching outside on a weekly basis throughout the school year for students learn more about and through the great outdoors.

Since last year’s initiative there has collectively been an 18 per cent increase in engagement amounting to 8,998 students (45 per cent of all learners) from across the region who have been benefitting from this challenge, in partnership with The Kootenay-Boundary Environmental Education Initiative (KBEE).

KBEE is coordinated by a committee of the Kootenay-Boundary Chapter of the British Columbia School Superintendents Association (BCSSA). The challenge is open to school districts 5, 6, 8, 10, 20 and 51. KBEE’s mandate and goal is to better support students’ understanding of their local environment. It is their intent to empower thoughtful action, through outdoor learning that is experiential, place-based, and place-conscious.

Those who participated in this initiative were not only given resources and unlimited support, but were also entered to win one of 50 fully customizable Outdoor Learning Classroom Kits supplied by the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN), each with a value of $500. Recent results of this this 2022-2023 challenge shows that leading the way as the most engaged is Arrow Lakes School District No. 10, with 92 per cent of their students involved. 

“Outdoor and Environmental education is a foundational part of learning in our School District,” said superintendent, Peter Dubinsky. “We value and appreciate the land we learn on and see the outdoors as an extension of the classroom that allows for wonder, play, exploration, and care taking.”

School District 5 came in second as both the most engaged School District at 79 per cent, and the most improved School District compared to the 2021-2022 challenge at a 139 per cent improvement. School District 8 showed the most improvement from last year’s challenge at a rate of 188 per cent.

“It has been exciting to witness the growth of this initiative and to see the positive impacts in our schools,” said Jennifer Roberts, director of innovative learning for Southeast Kootenay School District No. 5. “Teachers report that students are happier, healthier, more connected, and show an increased level of engagement when they are learning in an outdoor environment.”

“Educators can weave outdoor education and Indigenous perspectives and knowledge together with ease by examining local place-based learning,” said Jenna Jasek, vice-principal for Indigenous Education and Equity at Rocky Mountain School District No. 6. “Being outdoors and using Indigenous perspectives provides various lessons all year through seasons, weather, astronomy, water, animals, and how to be stewards of the land. The relationship with the local area and being outdoors provides unlimited space for all learners.”