FOULDS: There has to be a way to extend elementary magic
Why can’t kids stay in the same class beyond elementary school?
Why can’t the near-perfection of the elementary years carry on through high school?
Why must the comfortable cocoon of community give way to the frenzied and foreign world of secondary school, where cliques are amplified and when so many kids begin to fall through society’s cracks?
Grade 7 is, in a very real way, the end of innocence.
For a few magical days last week, I was fortunate enough to live amongst that innocence as part of a parental group that joined teachers and two classes of kids in grades 6 and 7 on a journey to the McQueen Lake Environmental Centre, run with precision by caretaker Dan Sargent.
Parents who have bunked down at the lake just 16 kilometres north of Kamloops will know what I mean when I say the 48-hour trip is revelatory in myriad ways.
It’s about a half-hour from the city, but decades from today in terms of technology.
Everyone sleeps (or attempts to) in rustic cabins that contain a couple of windows, hard, wooden bunk-type beds and a propane heater.
When it gets dark, it’s lights out with a side dish of old-fashioned ghost stories.
There is no cell service, so there are no cellphones ringing beeping, buzzing or vibrating. There are no iPods, no iPads, no X-boxes, no Wiis, no Playstations, no TVs and no radios.
There is a landscape that only Mother Nature could create, a breathtaking camp of cabins and a lodge and a lake and woods that seem stolen from a Robert Frost poem, all layered in the most majestic of snowfalls and overseen by a sky so blue the hue has hypnotic qualities.
True, the trip spanned only two nights, but that time period, with so many activities packed into a schedule from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seemed much longer — and left most, if not all, wishing it could actually be longer.
Kids stood elbow to elbow with parents preparing breakfast and cleaning up after dinner; kids gathered in front of the lodge for impromptu games of road hockey on a snowy, makeshift arena; kids were led on long cross-country ski sojourns, taught wilderness-survival skills and created art from the natural world.
These trips are invaluable in connecting kids with nature.
But, more importantly, I would argue, these trips are crucial in fostering a sense of teamwork among all kids by eliminating any pre-existing cliques and instilling an us-against-the-world bond.
The little things are the big things — five kids who normally don’t hang out at school strapping on snowshoes and heading out on the stillness of McQueen Lake under a million stars and a moon as bright as spilled milk; Kamloops Minor Hockey Association hot shots urging their non-hockey-playing classmates to score a goal; kids from diverse backgrounds spending time together to craft brilliant skits to be performed in front of their peers, their teachers and their parents.
Trips to McQueen Lake take kids out of their comfort zones and propel them into an atmosphere of family and shared values.
Watching the kids laugh as they worked together, giggle as they wiped out on skis and relax as they played board games in front of a roaring fire left me wondering:
What is it that happens in that jump to Grade 8 from Grade 7?
Why is the first year of high school so often the origin of so much misery and tragedy?
If we can see what works in the elementary system, why can we not see what doesn’t work, what hasn’t worked, at the high-school level for too long?
Can we not extend that which makes the elementary years so pure and at least attempt to emulate it in secondary school?
If not, why not?
Too much innocence is lost at far too young an age in the status quo.