Students, teachers see benefits of land-based learning at Bert Fox community school
- NC Raine | September 27, 2019
Imagine, as a Grade 10 student, spending an average day in class learning about hunting or fishing, and being pushed to be strong leaders, collaborators, and independent thinkers rather than studying from a textbook. For some, it’s a pretty big adjustment from conventional class structure.
“The students are so institutionalized to get that piece of paper, to have something to hand in,” said Megan Gurski. “They sometimes get a sense of stress at first that they aren’t getting marked. But it’s getting them to take hold of their own learning, which I think is very important.”
Gurski teaches Learning from the Land at Bert Fox Community High School in Fort Qu’Appelle. The class is focused on ‘outside the box’ learning – students engaging in experiential learning stemming from local language, history and culture.
“The students are more engaged. I personally see that they’re happy to come to class, their attendance is higher, and their academics are going to be higher because it’s a lot of hands-on learning,” said Gurski.
“I tell my students, ‘I can test you to show me exactly what you don’t know. But I don’t want to know what you don’t know. I want you to show me what you do now’,” she said.
This year, students in the Learning from the Land class will be doing everything from tipi building and ice fishing to working with elementary school students. In the classroom, they are encouraged to start discussions, talk out problems. And if a student has more knowledge than others on a certain subject, even the teacher, they are encouraged to lead the class.
“The students love it because they’re always doing something different,” said Gurski. “They become more comfortable in themselves because they’re encouraged to take those risks. I really try to push them.”
The impact of this sort of learning shows, said Bert Fox principal Julie Stiglitz. Students in last year’s Learning from the Land class had a ten percent better attendance rate than students not in the program, and credit attainment was eight percent higher.
“It’s more real. The students are engaging in their culture and spirituality in authentic ways,” said Stiglitz.
This is the first year that Bert Fox has adjusted the students’ time tables, allowing flexibility to be out on the land for longer periods of time, sometimes for a full day.
And this type of education doesn’t begin and end with Gurski’s class. Students at Bert Fox also have the opportunity to learn subjects like Cree culture, wildlife management, Indigenous-centric health and fine arts, as wells as take part in sweats, smudges, and other traditional ceremonies.
“We as a school have a high Indigenous population and need to teach ways that Indigenize the curriculum. Land based learning makes a lot of sense for us,” said Stiglitz.
Last year’s group of land-based learning students speak highly of the program and the impact it had inside and outside the classroom.
“I enjoyed being around these people constantly, going on all these adventures together and learning as a group. It makes me feel like I belong,” said Tasia S.
“I like that we do lots of hands-on stuff, it teaches us a lot more instead of being at a desk,” said Caleb L. “I wish that it went on for the whole year because it teaches us our language, our background, and who we are.”