page contents

Behind The Scenes of Banff Elementary School’s Grade 7 Leadership Course

STEPPING OUT FOR A NEW TYPE OF LEARNING: Life Skills, Environmental Stewardship, Teamwork and Respect

Wakey, wakey, rise and shine!

For the class of Banff Elementary School’s Grade 7s, the morning of Tuesday September 12 started a little differently than a usual school day – but this wasn’t your typical day of learning in the classroom.

This was Day Two of the Canadian Rockies Public Schools’ enhanced learning initiative; a Leadership Course for students – and instead of the parents, it was teachers in-charge of the morning wake-up call.

First on the agenda: a 7:15am team run.  The students, waking from their slumber and stepping out of their shared, cabin accommodation, grouped together to follow their enthusiastic and very encouraging teacher into the crisp Fall air outside the Canadian Rockies Outdoor Learning Centre, in Bow Valley Provincial Park.
Canadian Rockies Public Schools
Canadian Rockies Outdoor Learning Centre
Leadership Course
Devised by Banff Elementary School’s Assistant Principal, Natasha Miles, with support from Peter Prescesky, Coordinator, Canadian Rockies Outdoor Learning Centre, the Leadership Course was developed as an educational program with a difference.

“In preparation for the 2017-18 school year, we recognized that our Grade 7 students would face an unusual situation this term: instead of migrating across to Banff Community High School as their predecessors had before them, they would remain at Banff Elementary School for another 12 months, as the class leading the school’s two year transition to a Kindergarten to Grade 8 school.  We wanted to ensure that this didn’t impact on their personal development and confidence, and that we actually used this opportunity to enhance those things,” Natasha Miles says.

She continues: “We saw an opportunity to create some hands-on training set within a fun, outdoors environment, so we designed the Grade 7 Leadership Course to be the springboard for important leadership skills.  We wanted to demonstrate to our Grade 7s that we trust them to become responsible leaders of the school – we’re relying on them to set an excellent example to the younger students, and the Leadership Course was born from those objectives.”

Ms. Miles moved ahead to develop the course outline with her colleagues, ensuring that it was a complement to the classroom curriculum and challenged the students to learn in an alternative environment.

Leadership Course
Leadership Course
Leadership Course
With that, the chosen location for the Leadership Course was a consideration from the very beginning of the planning stages: this initiative needed to be at a venue that would encourage the students to step outside of their comfort zone of school and home, into a place where they could explore independence, and a ‘grown-up’ environment.  The Canadian Rockies Outdoor Learning Centre was the perfect choice.

With the class of Grade 7 students arriving at the Centre the morning of September 11, Day One of the Course began with a Centre welcome and orientation, followed by some team-building exercises, lunch and then, the learning activity sessions taking place throughout the afternoon.

Pete Prescesky explains the importance of the team-building exercises, each developed to educate the students on the values of leadership, including being responsible outdoors and protecting our park spaces:

“Part of the Leadership Course is teaching environmental stewardship; we’re showing students that even if it’s not your garbage, you should pick it up, and why non-natural waste is bad for our river systems.  We’re teaching morals, and how we can each take little steps to improve our environment.”

The first day of the course continued with some problem-solving activities, before the class settled down for dinner and a cup of hot chocolate.  Then, it was time to retreat into the cabins with lights-out at 9pm.

Jog complete, Day Two began with a hearty breakfast to kick-start the day.  The students gathered – all wide-awake and in high spirits after their morning exercise – in the breakfast room of the Centre to tuck into a feast of fruit, yogurt, cereal and Mexican omelettes. Next, it was taking care of the morning chores – as is expected of any good, responsible, young leader!

Ethan, a student of the Leadership Program shares that he’s particularly enjoyed the outdoor time of the program, as it was ‘just like camping’.

Ethan, a student of the Leadership Program shares that he’s particularly enjoyed the outdoor time of the program, as it was ‘just like camping’.

“It’s really fun,” Ethan says. “I liked sleeping in the cabin.”

Leadership Course
Leadership Course
Leadership Course
Now, at 8:30am, the second morning of leadership workshops are in session.  The students are assigned a group workshop to partake in, each headed-up by a teacher or field expert [the students all participated in four major learning sessions over the course of the two-day course; First Aid, trail-building, mindfulness by the lake, and a scavenger hunt challenge].


“It’s so valuable to have the students out here in nature,” says Ms. Wiebe. “We live in the perfect environment to nurture this appreciation of the outdoors within our children.”

The First Aid group begin to gather on the floor space of the Centre. Kneeled down on the floor with the students and with some props lying at the side ready to be used for a demo, session leader Pete initiates the workshop with a Q&A on First Aid basics and how to assist a friend or family member if they hurt themselves; what to do while medical assistance is on its way.

Then it gets practical, with the students taking great enjoyment of pairing off and trying the art of bandage-wrapping and sling-making on their peers.

Elsewhere, the students were taking some time to reflect, be still and practice mindfulness – a session led by ‘Right from the Start’ Success Coaches, Kat Weibe and Allyson Vanimpe.  Also, teacher Nikki Thomson was heading up an exciting scavenger hunt in and around the grounds.

“It’s so valuable to have the students out here in nature,” says Ms. Wiebe.  “We live in the perfect environment to nurture this appreciation of the outdoors within our children.”

The Leadership Course would then conclude with a team hike to Grassi Lakes and lunch, before returning back to school that afternoon.

“We’re really pleased with how the students have responded to the program’s activities, they’ve had a great time and worked together through the sessions.  It’s been wonderful to see them react, respond and connect to the various challenges and experiences – even staying overnight with their classmates away from home, it’s all part of learning in life becoming more independent,” says Ms. Miles.

Leadership Course
Leadership Course
Leadership Course
Delivered by Canadian Rockies Public Schools as an enhancement to in-classroom learning, the Grade 7 Leadership Course was made possible due to funding support from the Wim & Nancy Pauw Foundation.  The Pauw Foundation partners with Canadian Rockies Public Schools to provide annual funding support for athletics, Nature Explorers, Outdoor Pursuits, and outdoor education opportunities. See more at

Owned and operated by the Canadian Rockies Public Schools, the Canadian Rockies Outdoor Learning Centre strives to lead the country in innovative, experiential education programs that empower youth through connection to their natural and cultural heritage. At our core is the goal to assist students to see the world around them with new eyes; to connect with nature and the cultural stories of place and to embrace the values of protected areas. As part of the curricula, students participate in mountain recreation, natural science and rehabilitation projects such as non-native species control. For more information visit

Wim & Nancy Pauw Foundation