Challenge is the essence of Discovery Week

In the world of Outdoor Education, we like to contrast the easy days of an extended outtrip with the challenging ones.

by Graham Vogt, school principal

Those sunny, calm days, perhaps with a tiny breeze at our backs, pushing us quietly, blissfully to our next portage tend to blend into one. In our memory banks, the nice days are all one day. Admittedly, even as teachers, these are the days we hope for; in the days before leading a group through the lake chain of Killarney, we tend to keep one eye focused on the weather forecast. We are hoping for a smooth journey. Indeed, we are hoping for something (gulp!) easy. The challenging days are not one day. Each challenging day is a day—a specific experience, a clear memory—unto itself. It is the days of pouring, cold, driving rain, with the inevitable mix of exasperated laughter and, yes, misery that are etched so clearly into our minds. We don’t tend to seek or desire those days, but they are also the reason we set out on the adventure in the first place. We want to be challenged by the experience, we want to grow, we want to learn something lasting of ourselves.

This metaphor holds strong in all corners of education. Reflect for a moment upon your own experiences as a high school student. What do you remember? What still sits with you? What do you hold onto and how have those experiences helped shape who you are today? We understand how powerful and lasting the learning is when embedded in an experience rich with adventure and challenge that perhaps pushes us a little beyond what we imagined we were capable of. At Rosseau Lake College, we are proud of the extent to which students are consistently pushed beyond levels of comfort towards the truly memorable experiences that tend to capture our learning. Outtrips are a grounding force in this regard. Challenge is alive in our classrooms everyday as well. Of course, challenge is also at the essence of our Discovery Program.

Discovery Week provides students with the specific opportunity to challenge themselves in ways and to an extent in which they have not before. The richest and most lasting experiences occur when students truly embrace the opportunity. We have seen students imagine, create and articulate incredible projects that hold meaning well beyond the simple fulfillment of a task, or the grade associated with that task. Students have delved deeply into mechanics, engineering, culture, business, art, science and beyond. They include everything from designing and building a motorize go-kart, to manufacturing and marketing cosmetics, to organizing the school’s first PowWow.

As impressive as each of the projects is, the more lasting value may be found in the students’ ever-growing ability to describe the essential learning embedded within their experiences. Melissa Lloyd Ibarra ‘20, for instance, says that while “I very much enjoyed my daily walks to the water to collect water samples”—she investigated how we might minimize the harmful effects road salt on ecosystems—the real power was in “learning about how we can protect the environment, a topic that I feel passionate about, and nothing compares to the joy of seeing theoretical chemistry in action when my water tests worked.” Another student a few years ago designed an opportunity to rebuild RLC’s sailing program. Afterward, he reflected on how the experience allowed him to tangibly understand the interconnectedness of all learning, drawing from the curriculum of Advanced Functions (Math), Physics, Computer Science, Marketing, English, Outdoor Education and Leadership.” For him, Discovery Week “challenged me by making me think outside the box in regards to what was at first visually possible. They have made me sit back and take a different perspective in regards to learning and the conventional connections to courses and my education.”

It is really the opportunity to learn, through the challenge of Discovery Week, something important of themselves that, in the end, resonates most strongly with the students. Melissa says that “Discovery Week taught me that I cannot work on a project that I do not care about for a long period of time. They have taught me to prioritize my personal interests if I want to remain engaged. They have taught me to be flexible in my approach to solving a problem because there is always more than one way to do it.”

Of course, we all face many challenging moments and days that, like the upwind paddle in the driving rain, can feel impossible and unending. Luckily, we also consistently experienced and hold onto the unparalleled exhilaration realized at the end of a long, hard journey.