Power To Be’s Wilderness School is a three-year program offered to youth in grades 8-10 who live with barriers at home and/or at school.  Monthly weekend trips and multi-day summer adventures on Vancouver Island support participants in strengthening relationship and leadership skills within a small group of peers.  Groups advance through the program as a cohort, so participants really get to know each other and learn to work together over the 3-year program.

Throughout their experience, participants connect with nature doing different activities in a variety of settings, which allows them to explore who they are and what they are capable of.  With the support of program staff, they expand their skills and develop a new appreciation of the natural environment and their place within it.  Students also experience inclusion as each individual is an integral part of the group with their own unique contributions.

One thing that makes Wilderness School so wonderful for the program staff is when they witness “magic” moments; a moment when they see a participant break through a barrier. These moments can take many forms:  a participant pushes past a barrier and is celebrated by the group or steps out and take a risk because they feel supported, or the staff hears how the student is bringing the learning back to life at home or school.

According to Clinton Thomas, who facilitated Wilderness School last year, these moments tend to be particularly evident about two-thirds of the way through the Year 2 kayak expedition.  Program staff observed the group doing most of the work to put up and take down the campsite, and to get the kayaks ready for the next leg of the journey. The staff was able to step back, provide support in the background, and enjoy the participants’ leadership and initiative.

Clinton also described how other participants have grown and changed over the course of the program. One participant became particularly interested in learning the morning weather report; an essential task on the trip. After only a few short days she was able to provide weather reports that were just as good as Clinton’s. He was thrilled to see her initiative and attention to detail pay off. Another participant’s confidence in her gift of bringing people together really came out.  As she realized that there were only a few programs left before graduation, she took the initiative and wrote a note to each member of her cohort to let them know how much she appreciated them and the contribution they had made to her life.  Her thoughtfulness and willingness to express it made the last few adventures particularly special for everyone.

This participant did not stop there, as she used her ability to bring people together to organize her family to do hiking excursions. Her confidence and skills in outdoor adventure helped her family to experience some of what she had gained from Wilderness School, and benefit from being out in nature together.

Another participant’s ability to bring his learning back home to his family also stood out for Clinton.  Over the course of Wilderness School, participants do “solos”, which are opportunities to take time alone, away from the group (but close enough to signal if support is needed) to reflect on their experiences and integrate their learning.  After a family camping trip, the student’s mother told Clinton that her son had asked to do a solo, away from the group for a while to spend time in nature on his own.  She was really impressed with her son’s confidence, skill, and desire to connect with nature, qualities that he had gained throughout his years in the program.

As a new cohort begins their Wilderness School experience this spring, the staff looks forward to supporting them to learn and grow and experience some of their own “magic” moments with their peers.