Students participating Take A Hike get the chance to develop life skills while exploring the outdoors. Delview Secondary will be home to Delta’s installment of the program starting Feb. 4. (Photo submitted)

North Delta high school to host outdoor program for at-risk youth

Take A Hike Foundation teaches youth social and emotional life skills in the B.C. wilderness

Delview Secondary will soon be home to a program geared at helping “disengaged” students develop life skills.

Starting Feb. 4, as part of the joint project between the Delta School District and the Take A Hike Foundation, school staff and a clinician will work with 16 Delta high-school students in outdoor workshops designed to teach social and emotional skills to youth experiencing diffculties such as mental health concerns, behavioural challenges, and poor connectedness with teachers and other students. The students will head out on trips to the wilderness where they’ll take part in kayaking, hiking and other outdoor activities, which will give them the opportunity to reflect and collaborate without distractions like cellphones and social media.

Virginia Chomley, director of communications at Take A Hike, said the core skills the students will work on include social and self-awareness, responsible decision-making, and self-management.

“Developing emotional and social skills means students are more resilient to deal with life’s challenges, better equipped to manage life in post-secondary education and employment, and have the confidence and ability to set and achieve goals,” Chomley wrote in an email to the Reporter, adding that in outdoor conditions, where the environement challenges the students both mentally and physically, they can learn both their strenghts and their potential.

“We see significant personal growth and transformation in students after each multi-day trip, especially the longer trips in [the] spring, toward the end of the school year, which range from 5 to 10 days.”

According to a press release from the organization, Take A Hike has seen an 88 per cent high school graduation rate over the past five years, and 97 per cent in 2018.

“The long-term cost of youth not graduating from high school is well-documented, including increased likelihood of unemployment, poorer health outcomes, and reliance on social supports,” Chomley said.

The school district approached Take A Hike last year when it was looking to revamp an existing program with similar goals, said Joanna Angelidis, the district’s director of learning services. By dedicating $150,000 to get the program off the ground — along with $100,000 collected in donations by Take A Hike — the district hopes the applied learning situations in the wilderness will help local students build their leadership skills and agency.

“The program provides our students with a unique learning experience and that was really appealing for us as a district,” Angelidis told the Reporter.

“We took existing staff and an existing alternate education program, and then enaged staff and connected with students to build upon what was already there.”

She said the 16 spots filled really quickly and, depending on the results of the first installment of the program, the future need for it and opportunity to grow the program, the district will try to expand it with additional funding.

“Right now we have [a limit of] 17 spots and we’ll continue to revisit that based on how the program evolves, based on the expressions from parents and students to participate,” Angelidis said.

She explained the costs associated with the program are shared with the Take A Hike Foundation and include funding for teachers and support staff, transportation to get the kids to and from the outdoor locations, and equipment for the students.

Take A Hike is also developing a program with the Surrey School District that it plans to launch later this year using a $150,000 start-up grant from the Ministry of Education and funds from donors.

“We value our relationship with Take a Hike and believe that this program provides us with another powerful option to support at-risk youth in our district,” said Jordan Tinney superintendent and CEO of Surrey Schools in a press release. “We have been actively engaged in dialogue, vetting and planning with Take a Hike, and have been working through our district processes and are looking forward to a partnership for September 2019.”

The first day-trip for Delta students is scheduled for someyime in February, while an extended trip is planned for this May.



sasha.lakic@northdeltareporter.com

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Students in the Take A Hike program get to go canoeing and kayaking, among other outdoor activities. (Photo submitted)

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