Whistler students learn to appreciate nature in new high-school course 

Fundraiser dinner set for Oct. 21

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - DEEP APPRECIATION Students in Emma Mulling's Environmental Stewardship course during a nature hike.
  • Photo submitted
  • DEEP APPRECIATION Students in Emma Mulling's Environmental Stewardship course during a nature hike.

At the outset of her new Environmental Stewardship course, Whistler Secondary School teacher Emma Mullings asked her students why they wanted to learn more about the topic.

"I am interested in this topic as it is becoming more and more relevant as humanity is expanding," wrote Grade 12 student Jordynn Anderson. "Our generation needs to be aware of the cause and effect relationship between the earth and humanity."

Dylan Macdonald, another Grade 12 student, wrote: "Being raised in a place like Whistler, I was taught from a young age that respecting nature was important... I have often found myself pondering the local ecosystem when camping, and would like to learn more about observing and protecting it."

Reading the various responses, a common theme emerges - Whistler's youth care about the place they call home.

Which means Mullings is ahead of the game when it comes to teaching her course, a group-work-centred class that aims to help students form a deeper appreciation for the natural environment.

"I wanted to do a group project in which students were able to work together as a team and make a difference in the community," Mullings said.

The course fits well with the province's new emphasis on project-based learning.

Through her course, Mullings' students have chosen one area of Whistler to study - in this case Green Lake - with the goal of learning as much as they can before presenting their findings to the community.

"The idea is that by learning about that area, and understanding the biology and the flora and fauna in that area and some of the issues affecting that area, we'll understand a lot about other areas in Whistler, and then be able to share those ideas with others," Mullings said.

The entire course serves as one big group project, Mullings said, with different students studying different areas of interest.

"So there may be a group that will go and perhaps they will photograph how the area changes throughout the seasons and do an artistic appreciation that way," Mullings said.

"There will be another group that will go out, because they're interested in the biology or the flora and fauna, and ideally they will go out with a local naturalist who can help us to understand what's going on there."

The Whistler Naturalists have offered their expertise to the course, Mullings said, and partnerships with others in the community are possible as well.

Mullings said she got the idea for the course from her participation in last June's Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society congress - a high-level meeting of the scientific minds that included a workshop for local educators.

The course involves a trip to Tofino, which the students are fundraising for with a "Celebration of Nature" dinner and silent auction on Wednesday Oct. 21 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Whistler Secondary.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for youth. Children 12 and under get in free.

The dinner, Mullings said, is also part of the course, with the students preparing the food and hosting games and an educational component for younger kids.

"The idea behind that is to connect with those younger kids as well, and show them that these big kids are really caring about nature and the environment and that it's cool and it's fun to do that."

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