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Getting Parksville Qualicum Beach students outdoors

KEEP PADDLING: Woodwinds alternate school students in a junior version of a new School District 9 program spent a recent school day rafting and learning how to safely flip their boat in the Englishman River. - Auren Ruvinsky photo
KEEP PADDLING: Woodwinds alternate school students in a junior version of a new School District 9 program spent a recent school day rafting and learning how to safely flip their boat in the Englishman River.
— image credit: Auren Ruvinsky photo

What better way to get shy high school students out of their shells than toss them in the river. Don't worry, the students eagerly sign up for it.

"I like to get them used to the water, so I dump them in early on," said Jake Friesen, one of the teachers of School District 69's River, Ocean and Mountain School (ROAMS) program.

He was dripping in his wetsuit himself when The NEWS caught up with him and some students rafting down the Englishman River on a recent rainy school day.

"The personal growth these students go through is tremendous, to see them realize their potential and come out of their shell is something to see," said Darin Carmichael, the other teacher in the outdoor leadership program.

The students on the river were part of a sort of junior ROAMS program, open to younger students as a single class per semester.

For the regular ROAMS program, open to students in Grades 11-12 across the Qualicum school district, students sign on for an entire semester block of classes.

"The program grew out of the work Al Halverson was doing with outdoor career prep at Ballenas Secondary before he retired last year," Carmichael said.

Believed to be one of a kind, ROAMS offers students a chance to study and get hands-on experience with outdoor activities and test for a wide range of certifications.

They do many short trips to places like Mt. Washington and Mt. Cain to ski or snowboard, rock climb, mountain bike, fly-fish, hike and snowshoe and multi-day surfing and river rafting/kayaking trips to places like Tofino, Rath Cove on the north Island and Manning Park.

"It really helps the youth who are searching for a career or looking for ways to connect their love of the outdoors with a job search," Friesen said, adding that they get to do a series of one-day tests of all kinds of outdoor activities from wildfire fighting to tree planting.

Along with school credit they can earn certification in a wide array of areas like CPR "C" (for children and infants), occupational first aid, marine restricted radio operation, Food Safe and lifeguarding.

"They step out of school right into all kinds of areas," Friesen said, adding students may go into resort management, avalanche skills training, ski and snowboard instruction, swift water rescue or guiding and training in any area of outdoor recreation.

He added that all the safety and emergency-related work they do is also an excellent start for students interested in going into the the emergency services and medicine.

It is also a great avenue for students looking for a lucrative seasonal work skill or something that can help them fund post secondary endeavours.

The idea is also to get students interested in outdoor recreation connecting with businesses and mentors to increase their professional networks, Carmichael said.

"It's as much about personal skills as hard skills," said Friesen, adding he doesn't care how well someone skis if he can see them developing a proper work ethic and socializing and working well with people.

Run out of the district's Collaborative Education Alternative Program (CEAP), ROAMS is currently maxed out with 20 students from across the district and Friesen and Carmichael have big hopes for the future, including opening a version of the program for all high school grades.

The program is just one of a number offered by the district which stretches the usual definition of school learning and gets students out in nature or the community.

The two ROAMS teachers also teach the Vancouver Island School Ski Patrol Program (VISSPP), a more intensive downhill ski program that students only get a tease of in ROAMS.

While VISSPP is in its second year, Friesen said the idea is for it to be a sort of specialization that some students would take after the more survey style ROAMS semester.

To apply for the programs or for more information, contact the instructors by e-mail at jfriesen@sd69.bc.ca or dcarmichael@sd69.bc.ca.

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