BCTF dispute causing unintended consequences for outdoor educators

The loss of these educational opportunities is going unnoticed and unappreciated, they say

Outdoor educators want the teachers and the government to settle their dispute.

The majority of the focus in the current labour dispute between the B.C. Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) and the provincial government is on the lack of progress being made by both sides in the negotiation and the uncertainty felt by all parties, including parents and students.

Meanwhile, the damage being done to other industries that rely heavily on school being in session is seemingly going unnoticed.

One such industry has spoken up, however.

In an open letter to Education Minister Peter Fassbender and BCTF President Jim Iker, a faction of the outdoor education community has expressed concern over the situation and encouraged the two sides to find a solution to the dispute.

The letter, penned and signed by 16 presidents, directors, owners and founders of outdoor education facilities from across the province, claims that the withdrawal of education services within the public school system is adversely affecting their industry, as well, and they fear for the education that will be provided once students do return to class if an all-important aspect of that teaching is removed.

“Outdoor education plays an important role in students’ development,” the letter reads. “Shy students shine, new stars emerge, accomplishments bolster confidences, bonds form through shared experiences and challenges are overcome, all in a wilderness setting. Students learn leadership, teamwork, initiative and the value of being in and connoting with nature. Stereotypes, preconceptions, attitudes and barriers are easily dropped.

“With the withdrawal of [public education] services, outdoor education opportunities have been taken away from thousands of B.C. public school students,” according to the letter, and Jamie Boulding, president of the Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Recreation Centre said it would be a shame if that continues, not just economically for their industry, but also for the societal loss it would create.

The loss of these educational opportunities is going unnoticed and unappreciated, he said.

“There’s a sociological cost to this,” Boulding said. “Outdoor education is such a big part of what we think is important as a society, and to not have that available…it’s a huge missed opportunity for the kids. For those who value out-of-classroom education, this could cause irreparable harm. There are unintended consequences to these things.”

Part of that harm. according to Boulding, is the economic fallout. “We’re lucky [at Strathona Park Lodge] in that we have a diverse business and we’ll survive,” he said, “but there are some folks [in the industry] that are going to be hard-pressed to stay open.”

He said that Strathcona Park Lodge “took a huge hit in the spring, and we’ve had a ton of cancellations already for the fall,” adding that many outdoor education facilities are worried about how they will pay staff if they don’t see the normal levels of business this September and October, which is traditionally their busiest time of the year. Much of that business comes from the school system.

“Schools that have been coming for 40 years aren’t going to be coming,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”

Irwin Harder, general director of Camp Homewood on Quadra Island, agrees.

“This isn’t just affecting the parents, and kids, and teachers, and people directly involved with the schools, but a lot of people whose bread and butter is tied to the education system.”

Harder said that Camp Homewood hasn’t had cancellations for the fall, but he hasn’t been receiving the bookings they normally would have by this point in the year, either.

“If we lose some of the bigger groups that normally come, it will have a huge impact on us.”

In regards to the whole labour dispute situation, and their group’s intention behind the letter to the minister Fassbender and Iker, Boulding said, “No one likes to see this happening, and I’m supportive of everyone affected.

“More than anything, we just want them to figure it out so the kids can get back to learning, and we can get back to helping them learn.”

Harder agreed with that, too: “This might be a bit harsh,” he said of the whole situation, “but we’re supposed to have learned the lesson in kindergarten about how to get along. We just want to add our voice to the calls for them to get something figured out.”