Outdoor and Experiential Education Leadership in Action
The benefits of the Outdoor and Experiential Education programmes offered at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) span beyond the younger student campers to include unique and meaningful opportunities for senior students to hone their leadership skills through the practical, hands-on experience.
“The role of a student leader is to best provide assistance to younger students by welcoming them into the school community and helping them find their way around the building and integrate into their new school,” says Adrian Spagnolo ’02, health and physical education teacher and coordinator of the Outdoor and Experiential Education programme at SMCS. “At camp, the role of the student leader is to supervise younger campers during activities and rotations both during the day and in their cabins at night. Encouraging campers to step out of their comfort zone and try new activities while in the wilderness.”
Students in Grades 7 and 9 spend their first week of the new school year away at camp. Grade 10s head to camp during week two and Grade 8 students head to camp the first week following the Christmas holidays. All of the school’s camps are facilitated by SMCS faculty and ALIVE Outdoors — a Toronto-based experiential and outdoor education company.
“Student leaders provide a safe and supportive atmosphere, to empower students to embrace challenges through a variety of camp experiences,” says Alessandra Lombardi, theology teacher at SMCS. “They fostered friendships and new relationships, while leading their younger peers in a week full of fun and activity! The student leaders did a fantastic job creating a sense of belonging and community amongst our new students. As a new teacher at camp, it was a wonderful opportunity to see our student leaders in action and represent our school with much pride, honour, and strong leadership!”
Prior to becoming student leaders at camp, interested students must first attend a leadership development training camp in the spring.
“This is an in-house Training Certificate Programme that aims to prepare future-ready leaders for the fall and winter camps offered at the school,” says Spagnolo. “Students must apply for a cabin-rotation leader position and, based on their performance and willingness, they are critiqued and evaluated by both the SMCS Outdoor Education faculty and Grade 12 senior leaders.”
Any student in Grades 10, 11, and 12 can apply to become a leader and attend the training camp in May.
“I could not be the leader I am today if it wasn’t for the teachers and staff who supported me throughout my journey at SMCS,” says James Falcioni, Grade 12 student leader. “Being able to grow my leadership skills in various school initiatives has allowed me to find my voice and excel as a student leader.”
Falcioni became a student leader when he was in Grade 10 and has since helped with Grade 7 orientation and Grades 9 and 10 outdoor and experiential education camps.
“I wanted to become a student leader at camp for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I thoroughly enjoy what the camps have to offer,” says Simon Belaisis, a Grade 12 student who became a student leader in the 2021-22 academic year. “For instance, the chance to further embrace nature and partake in activities that I never get to do in the city, like canoeing and high ropes. Secondly, I wanted to try to inspire, guide, and get to know the young gentlemen at the school. Finally, I want to pass down the legacy of SMCS to the next generation, and I thought that camp would be a great way of doing so.”
At school, students have additional opportunities to hone and expand their leadership skills from leading clubs and co-curricular activities to becoming a captain of a sports team. Students can also find additional leadership opportunities with SMCS programmes such as Student Government, Student Ambassadors, Prefects, and through our House System.
“Being a leader allows older students to get out of their shells and become comfortable in more leadership roles around the school,” says Falcioni. “In addition, being a leader has allowed me to connect with the younger generation of SMCS students and demonstrate to them the true meaning of the SMCS brotherhood.”
Lombardi adds that even with student leaders the educational formation does not stop. Faculty continue to instill important values including personal growth through cooperation, communication, teamwork, and leadership.
“Empathy, care, support, and strong problem-solving and critical thinking skills are also important values student leaders can grow and develop,” she says. “The outdoor education leadership programme strives to foster a sense of belonging within our larger community by developing skills of collaboration, communication, and conflict resolution, while emphasizing the values of care, respect, and integrity.”
David Colaco, Grade 12 student who is in his third year as a student leader, says “Being a student leader lets you practice your leadership skills in a different setting and work through challenges in a supportive environment. You also get the opportunity to impact the school community and help show the younger students what St. Mike’s is about.”
“I’ve had some great leaders in the past who inspired me to become a leader,” he says. “They showed me things about the school and clubs that I should join. I enjoyed the opportunity to show these same things to them.”