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Posted: November 7, 2019

Surviving in our backyard

By Andrew Gulyas

Students at Fernie Secondary School hiked up into the mountains on many frosty October mornings last month. Students climbed up nearby trails and demonstrated their resilience and tenaciousness.

This wilderness unit began in the classroom, with students researching the nutrition needed to be out on long local adventures, appropriate clothing, and investigating basic survival practices. Taking the kids outside, Kori Vernier (pictured right), a local professional forester came out and discussed careers in the forestry industry, as well as the local environment, the effects of forestry on local ecosystems and how the industry is working to improve practices in varying environments.

Students asked questions, discussed their observations while being in the environment that they were learning about. It was a wonderful opportunity to have a professional come in, talk about our nearby woodland, and answer any questions asked from the students.

The theory was then put into practice with this burly bunch; they braved the cold and wet weather while learning to survive with fires and shelters. Students were given only matches and had to figure out what would start a fire (such as dry Burch bark), find the right size of fuel and appropriate amount of oxygen (when to blow and when not to blow on their flame). Students had to find the right clothes that worked for them with our many frosty snowy mornings and warm afternoons. Once we had practiced out in the local woodland and harnessed some of our field craft with a few short classes, students had the opportunity to put their skills to the test.

The culminating field exercise tested many students’ grit and rigor, and they passed with excellence. Students hiked up a local mountain “for like, ever!” With the many varying elements that our Canadian weather chose to throw at them. With each step, they made sure of their footing, bringing them closer to the summit of our mountain.

In order to get to our destination, we had to hike up a path and make our way through the bush and over obstacles. Students worked to help each other and make it to our goal location. Once at our position, students made camp. Students found their birch bark, igniting their fires and fed the flames to stay warm. Later in the unit, there was time for students to construct their shelters, working to make their shelters big enough for their group to fit inside, to keep the elements away and possibly stay alive in a dire situation.

This was a wonderful time, watching these groups of young people demonstrate their grit and rigor, charging up mountains as well as their willingness to get their hands dirty while figuring out how to construct their fires and shelters. Students showed great strength and resilience on this adventure.

Photos submitted

Andrew Gulyas is a physical education teacher at Fernie Secondary School

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