It really opens their eyes to different neighbourhoods that they wouldn't necessarily get to see, and to the different ways people live in our city. Kim Archibald
Have you ever thought of going on a camping trip in your own city? Are there parts of your community that you have never been to or don't know much about? Students in Outdoor Schools in Regina and Saskatoon are pioneering a new form of adventure, by participating in self-guided hiking trips through the streets and neighbourhoods of their own communities. The Urban Trek is one of the "signature" activities for Mark Gottselig, a teacher at Riffel High School Grade 9 Adventures in Learning program. "We hike around the city for 2 or 3 days and stop at historical places. The students make appointments with the representatives of different places along the way, do interviews, and come up with a tour. When we get to the spot, the students are in charge of the tour. We sleep out in elementary school gyms, church basements, or libraries, eat at local restaurants, and do cultural activities in the evening."
Kim Archibald, a teacher with the Grade 11 Outdoor School is one of the first teachers in Western Canada to start up an urban trek program. Archibald was first exposed to "urban trekking" when he was doing research for his master's thesis in New York City. I joined his class during their "trek" through Pleasant Hill and Riversdale and he told me a bit about how they got started. "I stole the idea from a South Bronx Highschool, I was doing some research there and I heard that one of their classes was planning a 5-day backpacking trip from Harlem to Manhattan. They were going to go through the Bronx, Greenwich Village, Lower East Side, Central Park, and more. It was incredible! I thought to myself, I could do that in Saskatoon!"Archibald uses the Urban Trek as a major component of Geography coursework. "We talk about what the history and the unique features of the different neighbourhoods are, and I always try to focus the students on asking the question 'why are things the way they are?' It really opens their eyes to different neighbourhoods that they wouldn't necessarily get to see, and to the different ways people live in our city."
For the 2-hour section that I joined the Urban Trek we met with program coordinators from both aboriginal and non-aboriginal affordable housing and family support programs in Westside Saskatoon, we talked about economic and social developments happening in the area, went to a youth drop-in centre, learned about environmentally friendly buildings in the neighbourhood, talked about some of the cultural and arts program in the community, and learned about some of the social support roles some churches are playing in the area. It was a remarkable "hands on" learning experience that gave the students a different lens for viewing the city they live in.
Most of the Outdoor Schools in Saskatchewan are currently doing Urban Trek Programs. In addition to Riffel and Marion Graham, the Grade 8 EcoQuest program does a three day Trek as well. For more information on how to organize an urban trek for your school, contact any of the current outdoor school teachers.