Thunder Bay

Amazing Race: Fun way for Indigenous high school students to learn way around Thunder Bay, Ontario

Students at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay, Ont., participated in their own version of the Amazing Race Friday. It's a way to familiarize the students, may of whom come from remote First Nations communities, with the city and its transit system.

Getting comfortable on city transit is important because students' high school has no buses

Grade 10 student Miranda Brown (left), Sean Spenrath (centre), the athletic director and recreation coordinator at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay, Ont., and Noelle Chikane (right) in Grade 11, got into the spirit of Friday's Amazing Race by dressing up in costume. (Cathy Alex/CBC )

Students at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay, Ont., participated in their own version of The Amazing Race Friday.

The high school is run by the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council. Many of the students are from remote First Nations communities, and for some it's their first experience living in a big city.

Staff designed the event to help the teenagers learn how to get around the city using public transit and to travel to different services and organizations.

No school buses, students ride city buses

Because the students live with relatives or in boarding homes scattered around the city, learning to be comfortable taking the bus is very important, said Sean Spenrath, the athletic director and recreation coordinator at the school.

"We don't actually have school buses so our kids are forced to take the city bus, and sometimes that ends up being a 90-minute bus ride, and sometimes it ends up being three buses just for some kids to get to school," he said.

Miranda Brown, a grade 10 student from Wapekeka First Nation, dressed in a cow costume for the race, explaining it was partly to be warm on a breezy fall day, and partly to make sure she didn't get left behind at one of the checkpoints.

She said taking part in the event helped her feel more at ease travelling around the city.

"My first year I was so lost, I was like 'where are we going?' and then I learned the bus routes and that helped a lot," she said.

Grade 10 student Jadyn Kakegamic (left) and Shawnda Mamakwa, who is in grade 12, say the Amazing Race is a fun day off school but helps them learn where to find services in the city, and to feel more comfortable navigating the transit system in Thunder Bay, Ontario. (Cathy Alex/CBC )

Helping the students learn where they can go for help or services is another important goal of the race, which takes the kids to the hospital, fitness facilities and the offices of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, said Spenrath.

Once the students return to the school in the afternoon, they worked on a variety of challenges focusing on this year's theme of mental health.

"They'll be working with the school nurse to call a suicide hotline, and run through a scenario. The idea is if they're feeling depressed or a friend is feeling depressed and how they can help and that could be a way of saving someone's life," he said.

School is one 'big family'

Saving lives is always top of mind at the school, which has seen a number of students die in Thunder Bay, their bodies recovered from one of the city's rivers or waterways.

It's why staff work so hard to make sure students always feel supported, said Spenrath.

"We're kind of like a big family. When the kids come, a lot of times, they don't have family and the staff are the family. You'll see our staff taking kids out on the weekends for camping trips, or whatever else, and we do become their parental figures, so this is great bonding experience," he said.