A Student-Led Experience Leads to Lasting Impacts

A Student-Led Experience Leads to Lasting Impacts

Student Experience.

These two words represent the very essence of the Outdoor Education (OE) program at STS.

Rather than being passive participants, our students take on a central role in their own education – and shape nature’s wisdom into lessons that resonate specifically with them.

Students are asked to fill out a number of surveys during the school year. Some topics relate directly to recreation, others to motivation, self, and belonging. For me, the one that really stood out was when students were invited to connect their OE experiences to STS’s core values as outlined in the Flourish 2031 strategic framework – and I was fascinated by the results.


This is usually the most common response, and for good reason. The outdoors can be challenging! 

When you think of resiliency, especially in terms of OE, the first thing that comes to mind is climbing mountains – setting a goal and committing yourself to seeing it through. For many, that goal is reaching the summit. 

The summit may be a goal, but it is not the experience. Each student is different; while some will easily bound up the slope, others may have to dig extra deep to make it halfway. The real question then becomes: what does STS need to do to improve the actual student experience, not just for those on the summit but everyone on the trip?

Resilience comes from teaching students the foundational skills they need to excel and giving them the agency to apply what they have learned, in their own way, to a particular challenge. At STS, we start to build that foundation at a very early age. 

In our Primary Years Programme (PYP), children are discovering how to snowshoe, set up tents, and cook hot apple cider over a camp stove. By Grade 4, they begin participating in off-campus activities, such as trips to Camp Chief Hector or Camp Horizon. In Middle School, they learn to ski, set off on canoe trips, and strap on their backpacks, and Grade 10 students continue to build on that foundation by adding more advanced skills with every new experience.

Grade 11 students are allowed to take an even more hands-on role in their education by choosing a specialty: backcountry cooking, digital photography, or GPS navigation, learning about it, then workshopping it for their peers, helping to build a strong sense of community, resourcefulness, and yes, resilience, in turn.


This second-most popular survey answer reflects a key aspect of OE and the STS experience as a whole—respect for others, themselves, and the Earth. 

When in nature, students can see firsthand how their actions impact the world, themselves, and others. After all, nobody likes to arrive at their campsite only to find it filled with trash! Committing ourselves to enjoying the outdoors while leaving as small a footprint as possible ensures that others will enjoy the same.

At the same time, learning how to balance one’s needs with those of the group is another vital lesson students learn in the OE program. Maintaining a strong sense of empathy and supporting others who may be struggling gives everyone a better chance of success. Equally important, students are also given the autonomy to stand up and advocate for their own needs.


This third answer was a pleasant surprise. As Director of the OE program, I believe it is essential that students experience the outdoors and enjoy adventure as well. 

I am thrilled that Joy scored in the top three in every survey for the other Flourish 2031 values, such as curiosity, integrity, and excellence. This is an incredible accomplishment that speaks to the character and spirit shown by every student in the STS OE program.


So where do we go from here? With our new semester system launching in Fall 2023, STS is restructuring the OE program to present a range of superb outdoor experiences within a focused timeframe. I am very excited to explore the possibilities this evolution offers. OE is an ongoing conversation that our students are a part of, and the best way to create an exceptional student experience is to listen to the students themselves. They are the ones out there learning, solving problems, and guiding their own experience so that, regardless of whether or not they reach the summit, they have already achieved more than they ever thought possible.


Published in the 2023 edition of Optimum Magazine