Taking a hike to academic success: Vancouver organization empowers B.C. youth through outdoor education

Better Together is a collaboration between Coast Capital and the Georgia Straight to celebrate programs, partnerships, and individuals making positive change in our communities.

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      (This story is sponsored by .)

      Martha Batke found Take a Hike at a pivotal moment in her life. Struggling with the format of the mainstream school system, Martha was skipping classes and close to dropping out of Kitsilano Secondary in her Grade 10 year. As a result, she fell through the cracks of the mainstream school system and began looking for alternative options.

      Her search led her to a life-changing opportunity to step outside of her comfort zone in a program—Take a Hike—that uses the outdoors, adventure, and mental health and emotional well-being support to engage vulnerable youth in school. Despite her apprehension and self-proclaimed lack of athletic ability, Martha took a leap of faith.

      Since 2000, Take a Hike has been leading the way in alternative high school education models—combining intensive and continual clinical counselling, adventure-based learning, outdoor experiences, and a tight-knit community to support British Columbia’s vulnerable youth. Partnering with five public school districts across the province, the program empowers youths with the skills and resilience they need to graduate high school, build healthy relationships, and navigate their own path to success. The program has transformed the lives of hundreds of youth in B.C. like Martha, along with their families, resulting in a 97 percent graduation rate among its 690+ youth and alumni—14 percent higher than the graduation rate for mainstream public education in 2019.

      “Take a Hike helps vulnerable youth who are scared, angry, hurt, and have fallen through the cracks of the system. They don’t trust anybody, they don’t feel safe. Take a Hike embraces them, provides them with clothes and food, and builds them up through outdoor adventures and trust exercises,” Martha shares.

      Coast Capital Savings

      At the heart of Take a Hike’s success is a unique program structure. Every aspect of its model is built on a foundation of safe and caring relationships, inclusive environments, tailored strategies, and high expectations for student success. It’s through this model that Martha found herself. Thanks to counsellors and teachers who continually go above and beyond, Martha’s outlook on life and on the world changed dramatically.

      Before joining the program, Martha had never left the Vancouver city limits. Through Take a Hike, Martha was able to experience rowing in Deep Cove, climbing the Grouse Grind, mountaineering in Pemberton, and much more. It provided her with access to a completely different world, just an hour or two away from home.

      Take a Hike also helped her to build a strong set of foundational core values. It taught her strength and resilience in the face of adversity; how to develop meaningful, trusting connections and relationships with her peers and teachers; and discipline in her pursuit of success. “You wouldn’t recognize me after the two years that I was there. I went from wanting to fade into the walls to avoid people to a very outgoing, confident young woman,” says Martha.

      Now, Martha is living in the Kootenays, a mother to three children, and has been running a farm on her property for the last five years. In addition to valuable life skills, the program gave Martha a deep appreciation for nature that she has carried with her through to adulthood. Because of her experience with Take a Hike, Martha has made it a priority to connect with her community through activism and volunteering, working with local food security projects, and community halls.

      Coast Capital Savings

      Take a Hike has continued to grow, building its services in communities across British Columbia, and offering long-term programming with the support of donors and partners like Coast Capital, to reach and empower students across the province. Martha also hopes to give back to the foundation directly by donating and volunteering her time at Take a Hike’s West Kootenay location so she can help to positively impact youth to achieve their full potential.

      As her children approach school age, Martha wishes programming like Take a Hike was a standard option as she firmly believes students from every walk of life would benefit from it. “Take a Hike is what school should be: it’s a healthy, accountable, respectful, rewarding interaction with the world.”

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