Carihi student Tara Warkentin reads up on the Arctic during a spare block Monday. Warkentin is leaving on a two-week adventure aboard the CCGS Amundsen as part of the Schools on Board program.

Tara’s journey to the white, wild North

Carihi High student hopes her rare opportunity will benefit community, as well

Tara Warkentin is on a plane right now.

Or maybe she’s on a boat – it depends on when you’re reading this.

In any case, the 16 year-old Carihi student is on an adventure.

As part of the Schools on Board program offered through ArcticNet – a federally-funded arctic research program – Warkentin and nine other high school students from across the country are joining the crew of the CCGS Amundsen for two weeks to explore the effects of global warming on the Arctic. The Amundsen is one of Canada’s largest Coast Guard icebreakers and has been outfitted as an arctic science research vessel. It houses 65 scientific systems, 22 shipboard laboratories and an army of scientists and crew.

Warkentin – representing Carihi – is the only B.C. student in this year’s Schools on Board Field Program. She joins two students from the Northwest Territories, two from Ontario, two from Quebec, two from Manitoba and one from Nunuvut.

Normally, a school would apply for a spot in the program, and then if it were granted one, it’d select a student to fill that spot. Because Warkentin was the only student at Carihi who had expressed an interest, however, principal Sean Toal knew who he was sending when he received word its application had been successful.

“We have a culture of trying to foster this spirit in our students and trying to accommodate students who wish to explore something more deeply or follow a passion that they might have – perhaps even start to develop a passion through the engagement they experience as part of their school program,” Toal says. “So when Tara brought me her idea of wanting to explore the Schools on Board program, the decision was quite simple – we have an outstanding student who has a passion for learning and an environmental conscience, so why wouldn’t we try to support her in this initiative?”

While the two-week expedition will be, “very science-heavy,” Warkentin says, there’s a sociological aspect to the trip, as well.

“We will also be having various discussions about social and environmental issues in the Arctic. We’ve already been preparing for a debate,” she says. “I’m interested in climate change, biology and a lot of the other individual aspects of the program, but I’m also interested in the cultural aspects. I’m interested in the Inuit people and how they were so isolated, and then all of a sudden our influences reached the north and how that changed life for them.”

Warkentin originally heard about the Schools on Board program through a family friend who works with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

She almost didn’t bother applying. She had applied to other programs in the past in which she was interested, such as Pearson College UWC in Metchosin, hoping to get away from the typical ‘high-school’ way of learning, but had never been accepted to any. She was convinced this would be yet another rejection.

So when Sean Toal, principal of the school, came and told her during a math quiz the school had won a spot in the program, she was overjoyed – and went on to fail her math quiz because she couldn’t think of anything but the opportunity she’d just been given.

She’s always been more of a hands-on, experiential learner, and feels the typical classroom environment removes some of that from the learning process.

No matter how good a teacher is at getting information across in a high school setting, Warkentin says, nothing compares to an actual first-hand experience.

“I think that in the classroom, you maybe don’t realize the magnitude of what you’re learning – the power of these things,” she says. “Seeing relationships first hand, you store it deeper inside of yourself, and you care a bit more. I think learning maybe is desensitized in the education system – there’s a separation between your life and the world you’re learning about when you’re in the classroom.”

She admits that view of how learning should happen comes from growing up on Cortes, where “the outdoors and the environment has always been a big part of my growing up – my education.”

An important aspect of the opportunity, Warkentin says, is that at the end of the two weeks, the students will be returning to their communities and sharing what they’ve learned.

“I think often the power of young people is underestimated, and so to have these young people bring back what they’ve learned and share that with others is really exciting. It’ll be very exciting to see what we all do with it when we come back. It’s a great opportunity to bring my learning to the bigger world. That’s what getting an education is about – it’s about what you do with it.”

Toal says that’s what he’s most excited about, as well.

“What appealed to me about the program was not only the amazing experience that one of our students could have, but also the expectation that Tara would come back with some knowledge to share with her community,” Toal says. “She is a passionate young lady who will be a great ambassador for our school and would do a fantastic job sharing and presenting what she has learned on this journey. Her experience and the sharing of her experience will not only enhance our school community – both with what she shares, but also with how she will become a role model for other students to show the importance of working with passion and integrity.”

She’s not sure at this point how she’ll be sharing her newfound knowledge, but while she’s on the excursion she will be gathering audio, video, one-on-one interviews with both scientists and locals, and will try to form it into some kind of entertaining and educational multimedia experience for others upon her return.

“I’ve made an arrangement with the Cortes museum, who have very kindly offered to host a presentation on Cortes at the community hall. I’ve also talked about going into both the Cortes Elementary School and Carihi and doing a presentation with a focus on science, and with a focus on how important it is that we learn about the planet so that we can make an effort to look after it.”

She’s hoping to incorporate some labs into her presentations, based on some of the experiments she sees and participates in throughout her trip, as an interactive feature for her audience, as well, so they can get a better feel, literally, for what she was doing on her adventure.

“I’d like to have something that’s open to the community in a wider sense, not just within the schools,” she says, but she’ll have to iron those plans out upon her return.

“I think that climate change is the biggest issue that my generation will face, and I think it’s really important that we see the effects of climate change first hand. The Arctic is changing so quickly and I think this is a really amazing opportunity to get to experience that with all your senses. I’m going to experience a world that is so different than the one I know. And I’m looking forward to bringing that back here, and sharing it,” she says.

Warkentin says she’s also hoping her enthusiasm for these types of educational experiences rubs off on others.

“There are many of these types of exchanges, college programs, volunteer opportunities, research opportunities and other facilitated experiences that students can take advantage of,” she says. “I think it’s really good to realize you can catapult yourself out of the classroom.”


The fundraising campaign


The Schools on Board program will cost Warkentin $3,750 plus the cost to get her to Winnipeg to meet up with the rest of the team, so she’s launched a crowd funding page through Indiegogo to help her pay for it.

She says part of the reason she decided to launch a crowd funding campaign is to add another dimension to the education she’ll receive from this experience.

“I think learning how to fundraise is a really good skill to have. It’s another skill set that I will acquire through this trip. Whether I end up working for a not-for-profit, or when I join a university club, learning how to fundraise will be a really good skill to have.

“I’m really lucky that I’m surrounded by such a supportive community,” Warkentin says.

“I like to see it as people in my community are investing in my education, which I’m very grateful for.”

As of her departure on Tuesday, she had raised over $1,900 USD – she couldn’t change the currency used in her campaign – which is 64 per cent of her goal, with 15 days left for donations to come in. When the first donation came in, I just couldn’t believe that people were willing to contribute,” she laughs.

“I know that sounds silly, but I didn’t really expect what it would feel like.

“Knowing that people really think that this is something that’s important and were willing to invest in me, I think, invests me more in the trip, as well.”

You can follow Warkentin’s journey on her blog, which she will be updating from aboard the Amundsen, and here’s a link to her fundraising page.