Disconnecting and Sharing New Experiences Outdoors
It’s one of the experiences that impacts our new students the most, and in May 2022, St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) and ALIVE Outdoors were finally able to once again host the annual Outdoor and Experiential Education programme.
Typically held during the first couple of weeks of school for Grades 7, 9, and 10 students, and the first week back in January for Grade 8 students, the traditional programme has not been able to run since the beginning of 2020 due to safety concerns related to the pandemic.
“This year’s camp theme was ‘We Are One’, which focused on building real-life human connection and building back our Outdoor and Experiential Education experience for Grade 7 and 8 students,” says Adrian Spagnolo ’02, Outdoor Education Coordinator and health and physical education teacher at SMCS.
The Grade 7 and 8 spring camp was preceded by a Leadership Training Camp for students in Grades 9-11 who were interested in receiving their Leader-In-Training (LIT) certification. Both camps were held at Camp Wanakita in Haliburton.
“This experience allows students to reconnect with nature and experience the outdoors in a safe and supported environment with qualified personnel,” says Spagnolo. “It also allows students to work with students of different grade levels and build stronger connections to then model appropriate behaviour when back in the school.”
Since students were not permitted to use their devices, one of the challenges they faced over the three-day camp was disconnecting from technology after almost two years of relying heavily on it.
“Students were eager to engage, participate in outdoor activities and started to return to their ‘new normal’ in-person and not connected to technology,” says Spagnolo.
The spring camp for Grade 7 and 8 students included various outdoor activities with their leaders and homeroom teachers, such as rock climbing, canoeing, archery, ropes courses, and an outdoor ‘phobias’ game led by ALIVE Outdoors and Camp Wanakita staff.
“Being a leader for Grade 7s and 8s is both a blessing and a curse,” says Christopher Notarandrea, Grade 12 student and leader. “Their energy and enthusiasm are always off the charts and anyone who was at lunch on the first day could feel it after just a second in the lunch hall. This level of energy is what makes 7 and 8 camps so unforgettable and exciting. You get out of camp what you put into it and it’s an amazing experience to be a leader to a cabin of kids who are putting in 110 per cent.”
Older students in the leadership camp participated in various faculty-led seminars, such as ‘Breaking the “Bro Code” & Deconstructing Brotherhood’, ‘Building Healthy Habits and Interpersonal Skills’, and more. They also worked on intrapersonal skill development, leadership decision-making, large group activity support, and small group outdoor initiatives.
“The mixing of the different leadership workshops and senior leader and staff-run seminars with fun activities such as voyager canoeing and high ropes allowed the leaders to really experience the best of both worlds — to learn how to be a better leader but also to remind them about the best part of camp for both leaders and campers alike: having fun and bonding with your brothers,” says Notarandrea.
“After two years of not running the May LIT Camp due to the pandemic, students were slightly more anxious to participate as it was a little foreign or new to many of them,” says Spagnolo. “Since we usually have Grade 7 Camp during the first week of school, it was nice to have younger students still get outside and reconnect with nature although it was an expedited programme.”
One of the many traditions that students experience at each camp every year, is a full outdoor mass led by one of our Basilian Fathers. This year’s mass was led by Fr. William May, CSB on the shores of Koshlong Lake.
Notarandrea reflects on another camp tradition that sees student leaders perform the song ‘Wonderwall’ all together on their last day.
“It didn’t hit me that this was my last camp until we were called up to do the Wonderwall and I realized as we were singing, that this would be the last time I would ever sing it. The Wonderwall song is always bittersweet, but it felt especially so this time,” he says. “I still remember the first time it was sung by our leaders at Grade 9 camp and being up there for the last time made it really sink in how much time had passed and that this was the end of my leadership journey. But looking right and left at the other leaders swaying and singing with me, I couldn’t help but feel proud of all of us, for getting here and getting to be senior leaders and sing Wonderwall one last time. Standing up there made me realize there is no one else I would rather share this journey with than the brothers beside me.”
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