Tofino’s progressive raincoast education society keeps kids curious about our coastlines.
WHEN THE GRADE SIX and seven students in the Wickaninnish Community School’s outdoor club discovered wolf tracks outside their tents on a camping trip, their response was telling. “They weren’t afraid. They were curious,” recalls Laura Loucks, whose daughter was one of the participants. Loucks believes they lacked fear because they were well prepared for the situation. “These kids have had years of hiking the trails, setting up camp, learning all aboutthe coastal and forest ecology and some of the Nuu-chah-nulth history.” Experiences gained thanks to the Raincoast Education Society.
A Tofino, BC-based organization with roots in the aftermath of the Clayoquot Sound protests, Raincoast works alongside an array of community groups in the southern Clayoquot Sound region, including the public schools, to deliver an impressive variety of programs. Raincoast’s projects include environmental monitoring, a speaker series that brings environmental scientists to Tofino, and a curriculum-based field school program, offered at no cost to elementary schools. It was access to the Raincoast field school that provided Loucks’ daughter and her classmates with the hands-on experiences that have enriched both their schooling and their appreciation of the unique ecosystem where they live, one that is sought out by visitors from across the world.
Dan Harrison, the young fisherman, surfer and scientist who helms Raincoast, believes the field school, which reaches all 192 students at Tofino’s elementary school, is the key to a lasting impact in the community. “The most meaningful programs we ever run are the ones that get kids outside,” he emphasizes.
There is a growing body of research that supports learning outside, and Harrison has seen the benefits firsthand. “You take a kid out of a classroom and they tap into a different part of themselves,” he says. “And they recognize themselves in the bigger world.”
This recognition extends beyond the immersive ecological and cultural education the students receive: slowly but surely, the kids’ exposure to the outdoors is fostering a more environmentally sustainable mindset in the community. “You have one of the most unique forest ecosystems abutting the Pacific Ocean, with all these fjords and inlets and mountains and mudflats,” Harrison explains. “Everything is here, and it’s just a matter of experiencing it. And, as soon as the kids start experiencing it, they care about it.”