Students explore Island’s wilderness

West Coast wilderness studies class is in session this spring at Nanaimo District Secondary School.

Nanaimo District Secondary School students Richelle LeBlond, left, Ben Whiting, Zach Blanchard and Annika Greese examine a geocache at Colliery Dam Park during a West Coast wilderness studies class earlier this month. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo District Secondary School students Richelle LeBlond, left, Ben Whiting, Zach Blanchard and Annika Greese examine a geocache at Colliery Dam Park during a West Coast wilderness studies class earlier this month. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Outdoor school is evolving.

West Coast wilderness studies class is in session this semester at Nanaimo District Secondary School. The course is in its second year and its popularity is growing.

“Traditionally, we’ve always had kind of an outdoor education class in the school district, but nothing that’s really focused on a lot of sustainability, wilderness conservation and just life lessons, from how to tie a knot to cleaning a fish,” said Franjo Crnkovic, who teaches the course.

Wilderness studies doesn’t replace phys-ed. It’s available as an elective to students in all grades in second semester and goes five days a week.

Some of the activities include hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, geocaching and knot-tying. Students are taught outdoor survival skills and learn to identify animals, birds and fish. There are opportunities for students to get their boating licence and first-aid certification and pass courses on firearms safety and belaying.

“The curriculum is ever evolving,” said Crnkovic. “It’s evolved from interests that I have and interests that the community’s able to offer to us.”

There were guest speakers and classroom work in the weeks before spring break, but there will be many more opportunities to get outdoors the rest of the term and put some of the theory into practice. Some multi-day excursions are planned for later this semester, including a hike to Della Falls near Port Alberni and a camping and fishing trip to Moutcha Bay near Tahsis.

Wilderness studies was introduced last year at NDSS, with 17 students signing up. This year there are 27 and Crnkovic said he’s heard there could be 80 interested for next year, which could involve splitting the class into junior and senior courses or running multiple blocks.

Students signed up in the fall and then waited impatiently for wilderness studies class to start.

“I’m super into the outdoors,” said Haley Andersen, a Grade 12 student. “I wanted to learn more about hiking and how to stay safe outside, how to go on multi-day hikes, how to pack and just basic outdoor safety things.”

To get a good mark, said Ben Whiting, a Grade 11 student, “you have to want to be there. So you have to participate and be engaged.”

Ava Barakso, a Grade 12 student, suggested the wilderness class is “progressive” education.

“[Outdoor recreation] has never really been something that’s been a huge part of my life and I just thought it would be something that would be a fun elective course that would give me a lot of important information that I could apply to the West Coast and all the wilderness that we have around us,” she said.

Outdoor rec class hosts fundraiser swap and sale

NDSS holds its second annual Fish and Game Swap on April 8 at the school gym.

The swap meet and sale is a fundraiser for the school’s West Coast wilderness studies class and its bass-fishing club.

There will be camping, fishing and outdoors gear for sale or trade, plus a raffle, silent auction and bake sale.

Admission is $2 or a non-perishable food item. The sale runs from 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Cost to secure a table is $20; for information, please e-mail fcrnkovic@sd68.bc.ca.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com