Wildsight educators teach thousands of students every year about the importance of conservation, habitat protection, and understanding and appreciating the natural places in our own backyard.
But how does what students learn transfer to their life view as adults? We set out to ask just that question to four former students from a variety of Wildsight’s programs over the years. What we found was a beautifully homogeneous response: getting students outdoors creates adults that care about the environment and that strive to make the natural spaces around us better protected, better understood, or better appreciated.
An educator in the making
Rylee Zondervan took part in many of Wildsight’s programs through elementary school including Winter Wonder, Classroom with Outdoors, and Beyond Recycling.
Rylee learned tangible and intangible lessons from the varied programs like respect for the environment, the importance of recycling and composting, being conscious of waste output, and her personal footprint on the earth.
“I have wonderful, clear memories of my class adventuring behind our school looking for animal tracks in the snow, animal droppings as well as examining different coniferous plant species,” she recalls.
As the world becomes more technologically advanced and polluted, Rylee sees the value of environmental education programs rising exponentially.
“Wildsight’s programs not only teach young children the importance of becoming sustainable by composting, recycling and reducing their water usage, but they also show children the value of our ecosystems and how everything relies equally on each other to function,” she comments. “Wildsight’s programs allow children to gain hands-on outdoor education in a variety of environments all while being physically active and mentally engaged, both of which are essential for child growth and development. In addition, Wildsight’s programs educate children on today’s modern ecological issues and teach them how they can contribute to reducing their eco footprint, which is something that will shape the future generations to becoming more sustainable and hopefully influence them to educate and inspire others.”
Rylee is attending the University of Victoria, pursuing a career in education with dreams of becoming an outdoor educator.
“I would not be where I am today without Wildsight’s amazing and diverse educational programs! I hope to one day be able to show children how fulfilling and empowering being ecologically aware and engaged with your outdoor surroundings can be!” – Rylee
Mentored and inspired
Kalum Ko grew up in Kimberley and participated in numerous Wildsight programs throughout his school years. During high school, Kalum signed up for Go Wild!, a five-day hiking journey that aims to develop leadership skills, connect students to our landscape, and inspire a love of the mountains. That program was pivotal for Kalum.
“It was the first time I’d spent an extended period of time offline and in nature. It’s hard to sum up the transformation that happens after being in the wilderness for a few days and how much I yearn for it,” says Kalum. “The five-day hike was a catalyst for a lot of the adventures that followed.”
Kalum, who is now a filmmaker and director based in Toronto, says he can look back and see what a gift it was to grow up in the natural beauty of the Kootenays. Much of Kalum’s early film work was rooted in the outdoors and nature.
“We have incredible access to wild places in the Kootenays and we need to protect them. Without Wildsight, I may not have been exposed to what wilderness actually is and, therefore, not have learnt the importance of keeping these places in their natural state.” – Kalum
As a bonus to the education outcomes, Kalum was greatly impacted by Wildsight educators and mentors throughout his childhood.
“One of the biggest impacts I’ve had from Wildsight is the mentorship of its educators and members,” says Kalum. “Some of the greatest inspiration I took from them was what kind of person do you actually want to be in life. These mentors are all humble, generous, kind and ultimately, make the world a better place.”
It’s hard to imagine where he would be in life right now were it not for these Wildsight mentors, Kalum reflects.
“They’ve had some of the greatest effects on my life and I don’t think it’s a fluke that the common denominator between them all is that they’re involved with Wildsight.”
Anna Ruoss participated in several Wildsight programs over the years, including elementary field trips where she learned about ecosystems and the web of life, to high school programs where she studied water systems and saw firsthand the intricacies of her community’s water supply. She also went on two separate Go Wild! Trips.
She recalls the time spent outdoors through Wildsight programs, connecting with peers in a different way than through a traditional classroom setting. She responded well to the outdoor learning environment: “I could see, feel, hear and interact with the environment and learn directly.”
Anna says much of that learning contributed to her worldview as an adult.
“Growing up in the Kootenays in an active and environmental family, I have always had a strong connection to the outdoors,” says Anna. “Wildsight was a factor in shaping my passion and providing me opportunities that have shaped who I am today.”
Anna is working to become a teacher, and hopes to pass on her love of the outdoors to her future students. If she is able to work in the Kootenays, Anna already knows she will sign up her classes for Wildsight programs.
“The more we connect and learn about the earth, the more inclined we will be to protect it. I know how important being active outside is to my physical and mental health, and I want that for everyone,” says Anna. “ The more students as the future generation are educated about the environment in the community the better equipped they will be to make informed decisions.”
Lifelong love of the outdoors
Patti Oakley grew up in Kimberley, in a family that was active and spent lots of time outdoors. She signed up for Wildsight’s Go Wild! five0day hike for the experience. She said one of the best takeaways from the program was to watch other students who had not grown up in active families learn to embrace the outdoors.
“A lot of kids don’t know about this world. It’s so cool to get kids that don’t know about that side of the world involved in that stuff,” says Patti. “Sometimes, we grow up in the Kootenays in this little bubble, and think everybody loves backpacking. Lots of kids grow up in Kimberley in families that aren’t active. We take all this stuff for granted… It’s so cool to get kids exposed to something that’s not necessarily in their family life.”
Patti has pursued an outdoor lifestyle now as an adult for both pleasure and work, saying much of that choice goes to growing up in an active family and the influence of team leader Jenn Meens from her Go Wild! trip.