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Summer Credit Program: Earning High School Credits Through Experiential Learning

Summer Credit Program: Earning High School Credits Through Experiential Learning

  • 10 min read

In late August 2022, Water First’s Schools Program team wrapped up its second year of delivering the Summer Credit Program.

Students from schools in Indigenous communities took part in a multi-week, land-based, experiential learning program full of fun, hands-on water science activities, through which participants can earn high school credits like Geography or Science. (Sounds familiar? See our update about last year’s program with Beausoleil First Nation here.) This summer, the Program was delivered again with Beausoleil First Nation, and for the first time with students from Saugeen First Nation and Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, based out of Cape Croker Park in Nawash.

Why is it important for Water First to deliver experiential high school programs like these?

While the main objective is for students to earn high school credits, we deliver the program in a way that deeply integrates Indigenous culture: learning on the land, working with water and fish, and learning from Elders, Knowledge Keepers, local lands and waters organizations and community programs. Gaining high school credits through land-based programs like the Summer Credit Program that Water First designed provides an alternative way of learning that supports our community partners.

The 2021 census shows that among Indigenous youth aged 20 to 24, 70% had completed high school in 2016, up from 57% in 2006. In this time-frame, there was a shift in teaching styles to emphasize experiential learning. We can see this in the publication of various teaching resources such as Natural Curiosity (2011), Our Words, Our Ways: Teaching First Nations, Métis and Inuit Learners, Alberta Education (2005) and Protecting our Sacred Water (2017). We believe this shift to experiential learning helps Indigenous students get the high school credits they need to graduate.

Traditional classroom learning methods are not inclusive of all learning needs. Water First’s Summer Credit Program prioritizes hands-on, experiential learning as an alternative to mainstream teaching methods. Students get to continue their learning journey and gain credits towards graduation from high school in a way that meets their needs. Our programs are project-based, so students can to take pride in contributing to their community’s growth. Students also gain foundational knowledge to prepare for jobs, careers or other opportunities in water, such as a summer at their local Lands and Resources Department. 

The program is continuing to expand, with plans to run three programs next summer!

The Summer Credit Program at Cape Croker Park

Tanya from our Schools Program recently wrapped up a 3-week Summer Credit Program at Cape Croker Park in the community of Nawash, a partnership with the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board. The outdoor experiential learning program offered students from Grades 9-12 the opportunity to earn either Grade 9 Geography or Grade 11 Environmental Science credits. Here’s Tanya’s perspective on how the program went:

Set in beautiful Cape Croker Park, located in Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, our classroom was a circle of picnic tables under a canopy tent. Mornings often began by a small fire with the trees rustling overhead and our friendly chipmunk, Sam, paying us a visit. A five-minute walk along a dirt path led us to the cool waters of Georgian Bay, with access to a variety of trails not much farther away.

Summer Reach Ahead Nawash

The Experience

The program opened with a local Elder from Nawash, Shirly John, who spoke with the students about their responsibility to care for the Earth and that education was a part of that. She spoke about the 7 Grandfather Teachings and shared some of her traditional practices related to the 13 moons. This visit resonated with the students and many of her teachings were carried on throughout the course.

By the end of week one, our morning routine was perfected: we started with a journal prompt to get students thinking about upcoming learning, followed by a morning smudge offered around the circle, and finished with each of us sharing what we were grateful for that day.

Week 1: Learning From the Land

The first week was all about making connections – between students, lands and water; among earth processes and watershed systems; and on a global scale relating to ocean currents, the greenhouse effect and climate change. The “Global Ocean Conveyor Belt” exercise helped students visualize these interconnections and flows.

The students had the chance to connect with special guests, including former NHL hockey player Ted Nolan and his sons, Brandon and Jordan, who talked about the importance of family, education and hard work; and Knowledge Keeper and local artist Brad Kiwenzie, who shared pieces of his artwork and spoke about the traditional stories and practices told by his art. The students listened attentively to each guest and asked unending strings of questions connected to their communities and local stories. 

During hikes through local areas – including the nearby caves on the Waazh Miikaans Trail at Cape Broker Park and a trek up the challenging Sydney Bay Bluffs – students explored weathering and erosion and learned about the historical geomorphology and topography of the region.

These hands-on activities were balanced by some fun too – including a generous barbeque meal and some ball hockey.

Week 2: Interacting with the Water

Our second week began with a visit from Alex Duncan and Ruth Duncan of Nawash Fisheries. Alex talked about his work on a whitefish monitoring program in Lake Huron. This program makes use of two-eyed seeing, where Nawash Fisheries meets with Elders and Local Knowledge Keepers to better understand the natural patterns of the whitefish. Students interacted with a large map of the area, and asked about changes in the lands and waters of past and present. Alex and Ruth gave students some hands-on time on specialized equipment, including an underwater Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV). A geocaching exercise led by Joseph Hoang, a summer employee with Water First’s schools team, gave students the chance to flex their skills at following clues and using GPS. Following these experiential activities, students learned about aquatic biodiversity and the impact of invasive species. They also rolled up their sleeves (and pants!) and got into the water to collect benthic invertebrates to study under the microscope.

This week was full of memorable learning experiences. A field trip to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula in Tobermory featuring guided hikes of Burnt Loop Trail and the Ginebek Miikans. A high ropes course where we were harnessed in, helmets buckled, and swinging 40 feet above the ground. A visit with Emily Mansur and her colleague from Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) Coastal Waters Monitoring Program at one of over 50 monitoring sites along the coast of the peninsula. 

There was also an exciting adventure that allowed the students to help find a lost dog and reunite him with his family!

Through hands-on science learning experiences – including fish collection with seine netting and getting into hip-waders to collect samples for a baseline environmental water test – the students gained valuable experience with important techniques and processes.

Best of all, students got a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of Earth’s natural systems and how vital each piece of that system is to the successful balance of a healthy planet.

Week 3: Linking Community

The third week kicked off with a morning hike to the Cape Croker Park caves. The first day focused on learning all about drinking water advisories (DWAs) through examining case studies, listening to each other’s experiences and using interactive tools to learn about different levels of DWAs.

Another week, another field trip — this time to the Water Treatment Plant in Nawash. Students got to see their learning about DWAs in real life, since Nawash has been under a long-term Boil Water Advisory (BWA) for several years. Plant operators Fred Dubeau and Devin Wilhelm led a tour of their facility, and talked about everything from operation and safety protocols, to the full range of their responsibilities. We also got to see the building of the new modern plant at another location in the community, to be completed within the year.

Later in the week, we met up again with SON’s Emily Mansur and her colleagues at Chief’s Point, a coastal monitoring site on Saugeen First Nation land on the other side of the peninsula from Nawash. Here we learned about aquatic plant identification, practiced our seine netting, and helped with checking a fyke net. We also learned about collecting water samples to test for fish species’ DNA. 

On our return trip, we stopped by the Oliphant Fen Boardwalk, home to an incredible number of unique plant species, including carnivorous plants and orchids! Some students were familiar with some of these plants and shared their traditional knowledge about them with the rest of the group. 

Our final day was spent at home base, Cape Croker Park. The students wrapped up their projects for the week and then enjoyed a celebratory barbeque with families, Elders, Knowledge Keepers, community members, guides, and teachers. 

I could tell the students were leaving with their heads and hearts full of everything they had experienced. Chii Miigwetch to everyone that made this experiential summer credit program into such an incredible success!

Click here to learn more about Water First’s Schools Programs.