When Eaglesham School in Peace Wapiti Public School Division launched an ambitious outdoor pursuits program last year, nobody predicted that four students would travel more than 10,000 kilometres from Recife, the fourth largest metropolitan area in Brazil, boasting a population of 1.5 million, to the village of Eaglesham for a firsthand glimpse of education on the wild side.
“Two years ago, we decided to get serious about our declining enrolment at Eaglesham School. When we rolled out our plan for an outdoor education program geared toward Canadian and international students, I must admit, we weren’t sure how it would be received,” says Principal Terry Pattison, who, along with a team of five teachers and staff members, leads the Eaglesham Outdoor Pursuits Program.
Enter Jackson, Isabele, Hugo and Italo – four sixteen-year-olds accustomed to big city life in Recife, an area known for its coral reefs and tourist-laden white sandy beaches, where temperatures rarely dip below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. When asked for their early impressions of the Eaglesham Outdoor Pursuits Program, the four students began speaking at once.
“The program is fun,” says Jackson. “I am learning a lot and making friends. We don’t have this program in Brazil, so it’s a new experience for me and my Brazilian friends who came with me. I couldn’t miss this opportunity. Even though I miss my friends and my parents back home, I am enjoying Eaglesham and learning to improve my English. I’d like to stay here!”
“This program gives us the chance to do things we have never done,” adds Isabele. “Eaglesham is quiet and the people are nice. I really like it here. It’s different for me, leaving the city where I lived all my life to go to a place that I don’t know, but I’m really happy to be here. Of course I miss Recife, but it is a good experience for me and I plan to enjoy my time here. It’s amazing.”
“I think it’s a great program,” says Hugo. “I’m experiencing new things and will have memories to last a lifetime. Eaglesham is incredible and I will miss the people when I go back to Brazil. At first, I was scared to leave my home and my friends, but since arriving here and meeting the people, my fears have disappeared. I’m having a great time living in Canada.”
“It’s awesome! It’s a great opportunity and a great new experience,” says Italo. “It’s so different than where I come from, and not just because it’s smaller. The school is different too, but it’s amazing. I’m loving being here, I feel so blessed. The teachers really help you if you need it and the place is so organized. I miss home, but I choose to be here. This is for my future, so I can handle it.”
The program utilizes Alberta Education-approved Career and Technology Studies (CTS) outdoor education courses to offer local, national and international students the educational experience of a lifetime while obtaining a high school diploma. Qualified instructors offer training in kayaking, skiing, trapping, baseball, fly-fishing, golfing, orienteering and navigation, and outdoor survival skills. During the quarter, semester or full-year options, students can also earn certification in hunter training, first aid, firearms safety, and pleasure craft operating.
“Right now, our program is set up to accommodate 15 students in the first quarter and 30 students in each of the following three quarters,” says Principal Pattison. “In September, we actually had to defer some applicants to the next quarter. In the early planning stages, we were told it typically takes four years of promoting a new international program before a school can hope to enrol its first students. With the arrival of our four Brazilian students, I think we can safely say that the response to our program has been great, and we look forward to welcoming more students next year.”
To learn more about the Eaglesham Outdoor Pursuits program, visit www.eagleshamoutdoorpursuits.ca.
Photo Caption: L-r: Mr. Mike McKay, an instructor with the Eaglesham Outdoor Pursuits Program, and international students Jackson, Hugo, Italo and Isabele take a break during their kayaking trip down the Smoky River in September, 2014.