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Nakoda Outdoor Program

Supporting intergenerational land-based learning at Nakoda Elementary School with new outdoor program

In Fall 2021, the grade four teachers at Nakoda Elementary School (NES) wanted to find a way to spend as much time outside with their students as possible. Knowing that learning on the land and outdoor education offers key educational opportunities, teachers Emily Parkin and Amy Sagan launched NES Wild.

Just like schools from across Alberta, days start with typical grade four lesson plans. In keeping with the province’s social and sciences curriculum, mornings at NES focus on literacy, numeracy, arts, and lessons relating to the Stoney language. For most of the kids, however, the real fun begins after lunch when they head outside and NES Wild begins.

With the help of community Elders and teachers, the grade four students at NES have built shelters and created an outdoor, hands-on, all-season learning space. Here, each afternoon is spent learning lethka myths and legends, wilderness first aid, fire safety, outdoor cooking, environmental sustainability, and compass reading as it relates to traditional mapping.

Banff Nature Explorers
Banff Nature Explorers
Banff Nature Explorers
With a long history of supporting educational initiatives that focus on outdoor learning, the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation recently donated $40,000 to NES Wild.

“We are proud to make a financial commitment that provides NES students the opportunity to work with the Elders and teachers, expand the learning of their language, and engage with their traditions in such a culturally important space in the community” says Cathy Geisler, Executive Director, Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation.

“We are establishing an intergenerational model, where the students, educators, Elders, community members, and Stoney Education Authority (SEA) administration are all involved in the entire process: planning and delivering,” says Sagan. “We have seen how programs like this strengthen communities, build positive relationships, and help students thrive. We’re overjoyed to have this financial support to grow this program in Mînî Thnî.”

To ensure the program’s success, a portion of the donation from the Foundation will go toward accessing a transportation solution to ensure that community Elders can safely get to the outdoor classroom, regardless of the season. So far, students and teachers have only missed one outdoor class this year and that was because the temperature dropped below -25 C.

While teachers, families, and the community love the program, so do the students.

“Every single morning, they ask ‘are we going to the forest today?’ I love that question, especially first thing in the morning when they come into the school. It’s already on their minds and they cannot wait to get out there,” said Parkin.

Banff Nature Explorers
Banff Nature Explorers
Banff Nature Explorers
With strong support from school administration, the educational team at NES have big plans for the program.

“We are envisioning an Outdoor Learning Centre, where the program can have a home of its own, to the point where students from other school divisions will come to Stoney Nakoda Nation to participate in outdoor education, side-by-side with our students,” said Parkin.

Along with being intergenerational and having the support of the community and the Foundation, NES Wild is positioned to becoming multi-generational. Today’s students will become tomorrow’s Elders, creating a sustainable educational framework based on cultural traditions, knowledge sharing, and strong community values.

Parkin is excited for the future: “This is just the beginning of what this program is, and with support from the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation, we want this program to continue for future generations of students.” 

Learn more about how the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation continues to support a more active, vibrant, and happy community.

Wim & Nancy Pauw Foundation