Outdoor education program in Saskatoon to take half as many students after budget shortfall

A program that offered Saskatoon Grade 11 students an outside-the-classroom learning experience has been cut back due to a shortfall in education funding.

Hands-on, practical outdoor class subject to staff changes, will be offered to fewer students

Maggie Thomas (pictured here in Northern Saskatchewan) spent a semester outside and in the community as part of the Outdoor Class through Saskatoon Public Schools (Submitted/Maggie Thomas)

A program that offered Saskatoon Grade 11 students an outside-the-classroom learning experience has been cut back due to a shortfall in education funding.

The Outdoor School program allows 23 students from around Saskatoon to spend a semester learning via canoe trips, nature experiences and other alternative lessons. They amass five academic credits in the process.

The program has now been reduced to one semester from two. This means half as many students will get to take part.

"It really helped me to see education a bit differently and really strive for what my passions were," Maggie Thomas, an Outdoor School alumni from the class of 2016, said on CBC Saskatchewan's Saskatoon Morning.

"I got to do something I love — being outside — and I got to do it in a hands-on way and learn at the same time."

Thomas said she worries cuts to the program will hurt future students' experiences.

Staffing reduction

The 2017-2018 school year at Saskatoon Public Schools was affected by an $11-million funding shortfall, and administration reduced staffing for the Outdoor Class from two full-time teachers to the equivalent of 1.5 full-time teachers.

The reduction meant less field trips for students that year.

"They had to do an online class for a certain amount of time a day," said Thomas.

Members of the Outdoor Class enjoy a field trip to Northern Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Maggie Thomas)

"We really wanted to hand on, to pass on the torch to the next group of people and really tell them how great it was but it's hard to do that with the budget cuts because there was changes and the experience lessened because of it."

For the upcoming school year, the two full-time teachers have been restored, but the program will run only one semester, instead of two.

Additionally, the program's base will be at Walter Murray Collegiate rather than City Park School due to expanding programs at City Park.

'It impacted my life'

When Maggie Thomas took the course with a home base at City Park School, the group would meet there, or at a set location in the city, to start their day.

"From there we would go venture into the city, or we'd start our trip depending what time of year it was," she said.

The semester's field trips included a week-long canoe trip in Northern Saskatchewan, a trip to Grasslands National Park, and several days working on an organic farm learning about sustainability.

"I know that it impacted my life," said Thomas. 

She said she hopes others can benefit from the experience as she did and that budget cuts don't cause any more changes to the program.

"I think it can take a toll on the education system as a whole because where are we putting the efforts into wanting students to be engaged, wanting students to learn more, and actually having practicalities walking out into the world," she said.

with files from Saskatoon Morning