Special to the Westerly
The incoming grade 8 class at Maaqtusiis Secondary School in Ahousaht have kicked off their year unconventionally, with a two-night stay at Cedar Coast Field Station on Vargas Island.
Usually field trips to this research and education centre are reserved for an end of the year treat, but principal Kate Drexler from MSS has chosen to emphasize student and staff bonding, over the usual routine, in an effort to “build the necessary student to staff rapport that she believes is fundamental to student well being and academic outcomes”.
Ten students, three school staff members, an CCFS educator who lives in Ahousaht and a cook from Ahousaht, all arrived at CCFS on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
The first night, they were joined by Drexler and Rusty Tannant, a teacher at MSS, who led them in a series of icebreaker and team building games. Before lights out, the students led themselves in traditional singing and drumming around a campfire.
The next day was spent at the nearby village site of Keltsmaht, a familiar spot for many students who have been here camping with their families. The students created nature journals and searched for and identified the uses of traditional medicinal plants as a part of the culture component of their camp.
During their morning at the beach, the group noticed a larger than usual amount of garbage spread along the beach.
While they had planned to conduct a beach clean up the next day, the scale of the debris was much larger than the class could handle on their own. CCFS and Surfrider Pacific Rim helped coordinate a response to aid the class and, as a result, 396 lbs of debris were removed from the beach. The students showed a sense of achievement at what they accomplished, many of them never having been involved with a marine debris clean up of this scale.
Their second night at CCFS included a presentation about the school values and mission, as well as an explanation of the timetable, schedule and expectations of them in the new school.
Another component to the evening was an introduction to the NuuChahNulth Language program, led by Aaron Keitlah and Ahousaht Elder, Betty Keitlah. They have worked with Tofino artist, Brian Bruzzese of Tuff Town Toys, to create a language memory game using the NuuChahNulth alphabet, which the students played in two groups to see who could match the most letters and words.
Drexler came to MSS in September 2018.
She has grown the culture and language program with the help of local staff and community consultation meetings, to create multi-grade cultural camps and exchanges with the aim of giving students the opportunity to celebrate and practice their culture, which according to Drexler, leads to “an improved sense of self, sense of belonging and self efficacy.”
The jump from Elementary to Secondary in Ahousaht isn’t a big one, the schools are only a hundred meters apart and the student’s familiarity with the staff, due to the close-knit community, helps with the transition.
This campout, was a great opportunity to ease into the higher-pressure environment of their final school years, and start the year off with some great memories.
READ MORE: New principals for Maaqtusiis schools