A Lesson Like No Other

A Lesson Like No Other
Written by Kate McLaren
The following article appeared in the Saturday, February 21, 2009 edition of the North Bay Nugget, weekly newspaper, and deals with a school trip with Chocpaw Expiditions.
For students in Ecole Secondaire Catholique Algonquin’s outdoor education course, the old proverb experience is the best teacher” rings true.

A group of 10 students recently travelled to South River to take part in a two-day trip by dogsled, hosted by Chocpaw Expeditions, which provides dog sledding and outdoor education activities with excursions into Algonquin Park. “The trip went exceptionally well,” says outdoor education teacher Al Faucon. “It was a pleasure dealing with this organization. The leadership of our guides . . . helped make this a great learning experience for the students.” After arriving at Chocpaw, the students went through an orientation session, learning how to handle the dogs and sleds. They were then led to a dog yard that’s home to more than 300 sled dogs. Each pair of students was responsible for their own sled, and took part in everything from preparing the sleds for departure to giving commands, gathering firewood and cooking dinner. “Having total control over the dogs was awesome,” says student Adam Price, who after completing the course last year decided to assist this year as a co-op student, gaining experience for a possible career in the field. “To be responsible for everything, to know the dogs are listening to you, it’s pretty cool.” Dominique Chartrand is a first-time outdoor education student with a fear of dogs. “I was scared to confront them, but we all had to go up and grab the dogs and harness them. By the end of the day I realized they were all friendly, and I got to like them,” she says. “It felt really good to face my fear.” According to Faucon, getting the students out of their “comfort zones” in a controlled environment is an important activity to help build self-confidence and leadership skills, which are emphasized in many activities in the course, such as canoe trips, wind surfing, snowshoeing and skiing. “The students are challenged, stressing safety through education and planning, and they end up doing things they didn’t think they’d ever be able to do,” he says. Gabrielle Gravelle, another student, says she plans to take the course again. “Trips like the dog sled expedition are definitely not as easy as they look,” she says. “It’s definitely not a ‘little kid’ group. It really makes you more independent.” The outdoor education course is well suited for students looking for learning opportunities outside the classroom. “The dynamics within the group grows from Day 1,” explains Faucon. “Students from all areas of the school start out as individuals, learn to work together, and finish the course understanding the concept and the importance of supporting each other, and working for each other, for the group.” Faucon adds that one of the best aspects about the Chocpaw trip was that it was the students’ experience to enjoy, and they responded well to the responsibility. “I take outdoor ed because it’s a great way to stay in shape, and you get to learn a lot by doing stuff, not just by sitting in a classroom,” says Price. “My favourite part of the trip was definitely the scenery, and seeing the dogs work together to bring us to our destination,” adds Chartrand. Chocpaw Expeditions, an organization that has been running trips for 24 years, offers various packages, including day trips averaging 25 to 30 km, and multi-day trips, during which mushers sleep overnight in a camp about 30 kilometres inside Algonquin Park. Chocpaw’s philosophy centres heavily on an appreciation of the outdoors, and a return to nature. The company is owned and operated by Paul Reid, who states on the website that “Chocpaw bases its programs on the legacy of the fur traders and the native societies. We strive to develop an appreciation for the magnificent beauty of the Canadian wilderness, its power and its solitude.” Being the largest dog sledding experience provider in Canada, with more than 300 dogs and 16 experienced guides, Chocpaw is able to offer year round programs of both dogsled-ding and canoeing to all age groups and abilities, including programs for tourists, schools and youth groups, families and even the handicapped, as well as special focus programs for artists, photographers, and naturalists. Although Algonquin’s outdoor education course has been successful thus far when it comes to building leadership skills and independence, Faucon hopes it will grow with time. “It’s a physically demanding course and it’s challenging, but like I always tell the students, the harder you push yourself, the greater the rewards.”