Wilderness gives lessons on living
Got kids yearning for fresh challenges? This summer, consider sending them to Educo, an outdoor- adventure school based in 100 Mile House that informally styles itself as Outward Bound just for kids. Founded in 1969 by New Zealander Geoff Tisch, the school offers courses from May through September designed to help youngsters grow beyond their perceived limitations.
Each summer, in groups of 40 at a time, children between the ages of nine and 18 journey from across Canada and beyond to Educo's rustic campus on the shores of Little Holden Lake. Living 10 to a cabin, and assisted by a staff of 20, these kids undergo transformative experiences, taking part in everything from paddling to swinging from high ropes, and helping out with the camp, pumping water, carrying wood, and working in the kitchen.
On the phone from the school, executive director Erin Beagle, herself a former student, struggles to define the typical parent who sends a child to Educo: “Our business is all word-of-mouth,” she tells the Georgia Straight. “It's mostly parents who want to give their kids an experience that…builds self-confidence. After a summer with us, kids get a big step up in knowing who they are. It helps them make clear decisions in regular school.”
For 17-year-old Stephanie Gobin, this will mark her fifth trip to Educo. After graduating in June from Point Grey secondary, she plans to take the 10-day senior-girls course, which includes rock climbing, paddling, peak climbing, team-building exercises, and plenty of reflective discussions, a hallmark that distinguishes Educo programs from those at regular camps. No crafts or swimming competitions here; instead, the focus is on “soft” activities, such as personal growth, group dynamics, and, in Gobin's words, “checking in on yourself”.
Gobin was encouraged to sign up for Educo by a cousin who was “a big outdoors enthusiast”. She says the school quickly fostered this feeling in her as well. As much as she enjoys the physical demands of activities such as climbing the high ropes, however, she finds the mental challenges are even more rewarding. “I know myself better now,” she tells the Straight during a telephone interview. “I never thought about it before Educo.” Gobin credits this newfound introspection to the solo trips that allow students to reflect on past events and future dreams. “This is a skill I learned from soloing,” she says. “It comes in handy when studying for exams and dealing with personal issues. I share more. I don't hold back. Instead, I…learn new boundaries. I've become a different person.” For Gobin, the best part is knowing that she can do this her whole life. “You learn to become comfortable in new spaces as you constantly expand and grow mentally, physically, and spiritually.”
Like most 10-year-olds, Ezra Manson knew what he liked and liked what he knew before he attended Educo. The school's high-ropes course, 17 metres above the forest floor, changed that. Just days after his 12th birthday, Manson speaks by phone with the Georgia Straight about his initial experience. “I had a somewhat fear of heights,” the Grade 6 Hastings elementary student recalls. “The counsellors helped me through with positive feedback. They got me to say what I was really feeling. I found I was able to let things out that I couldn't even tell my best friend or my older sister, Elisha, who convinced me to come to Educo in the first place.”
Now preparing for his third session in the Cariboo, Manson easily articulates the difference Educo has made to his day-to-day life. “Whenever I'm at school, I'm always thinking about how to use my Educo training, such as making suggestions for better ways to do things as a team rather than in a competitive way.” Not that he doesn't enjoy sports, such as soccer, basketball, and long-distance running. “It's important to stay as physically fit as mentally, because that's how they work best together.”
Executive director Beagle shares Manson's considered response to the camp. “There's a lot of reflection on what a wilderness experience means,” she says. “These activities challenge your identity. ‘Who am I? Why am I in the world?' You come through this learning ‘I'm powerful. I can overcome adversity.' And, best of all, you start to redefine what success is, including learning that sometimes, saying no is an important part of the process.”
ACCESS: For information on Educo Adventure School, call 1-877-245-9191 or visit educo.ca/. Costs range from $338 for an introductory five-day junior program to $847 for 10-day intermediate and senior programs. The curriculum also offers lengthier leadership and specialized activities programs, including new coed International Alliance and Ecological Stewardship classes.