Chef Alison Biggs shows a group of students how to roast a whole chicken and use every piece

Unconventional classroom in Metchosin teaches life skills to teens

Students still falling through the cracks, organizers say

Students from across the region recently got a crash course in fundamental life skills.

Held in Metchosin, the Get Your Ship Together event gave students between the ages of 16 to 18 a chance to stroll through wildflowers while learning ways to de-stress.

Other workshops taught fundamental finance skills such as budgeting, important tips on renting and how to roast a chicken while not letting any of it go to waste.

Royal Bay secondary student Jaelyn Kolarich said those skills are “stuff we don’t learn in school … It’s really nice to come to something like this and learn while in nature.”

It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the Boys and Girls Club Outdoor Centre in Metchosin, but it feels like a different world. Fields are filled with waist-high grasses and fragrant blooms dot the landscape.

It certainly is a step away from a traditional classroom.

“I think this is a really good setting for it to be in,” said Kolarich, who had just returned from a stroll that included a stress management workshop with fellow Grade 12 Royal Bay student Rachel Fehler. Kolarich spent the morning learning about budgeting and said she was feeling a little more prepared for adulthood.

Fehler added the stress workshop gave them the tools to deal with some of life’s problems and everyday stressors. Her main motivation for coming was to “just take a step back and learn a little more about myself and what I want to do in the future.”

Both girls were smiling as they headed off for a break around a campfire and possibly roast a marshmallow or two before lunch and musician Jesse Roper’s performance.

One of the facilitators of those stress workshops was Megan Millar from Power to Be.

“Everyone feels the stress in their life,” she said, adding that often times the stressors teenagers feel can be overlooked by adults. “Fostering resiliency in youth is very important.”

Millar noted the skills young people learn now can be applied not only as they transition into adulthood, but for the rest of their lives.

She starts each workshop by giving students a turn to share – an activity in which all of her students participated. Giving youth a chance to talk and air their concerns around their peers is especially important, she said, because they realize others are in similar situations.

Leading them on a nature walk while they share those experiences was also a deliberate move. “Youth are very over stimulated in our man-made environment,” Millar said. While not all students are ready for solo ventures into nature, getting them out of their homes or schools and even just into a backyard is key for helping them manage their stress, she added.

Nature-based experiences encourage them to connect with their surroundings. “It can just help to make you feel grounded,” she said.

Organizers Cory Manton and Alison Andresen said they were surprised by the popularity of the stress workshops and how many students articulated the need for them.

“Today, stress management is by far and away the highest attended (workshop) … There’s obviously a need for that,” Manton said.

But it wasn’t the organizers who ultimately decided what would be on the agenda. Manton said they talked with a number of leadership and youth groups across the region before deciding what topics to cover. “They basically influenced what we put in the workshops … They helped us design the content.”

Leadership Victoria’s team, Inclusive Us, partnered with Boys and Girls Club Services of Greater Victoria to provide the day of workshops, free to any students that wanted it. Noting that 25 students registered for the day, Manton said workshops were purposely designed to be small and interactive. “They have to feel comfortable to ask questions,” he said.

And organizers hope students will ask those questions now before it’s too late.

Andresen, who works for a financial institution, deals with young adults on a regular basis and sees a great divide in young people today. There are some who come in trying to buy that first house, while others already have so much debt they don’t know what to do. She said many come to her after really struggling with that transition into adulthood – that’s what inspired her to get involved in Get Your Ship Together.

“It’s an eye-opener for me,” she said. “It felt like something that was lacking.”

Often, she finds herself interacting with youth who don’t know simple things, like the fact it can take two weeks to get paid or that they have to pay first month’s rent and some sort of deposit in advance when they rent a place. “That was something that wasn’t covered in school; there was a gap,” she said. “Some get an awesome amount from home and there’s others that are falling through the cracks.”

Andresen and Manton agreed that filling those cracks is the key. In hopes of reaching more students, an online document will be created with the content of the workshops, to be distributed widely across the region.

“I think these are good stepping stones … We’re hoping somebody will continue it,” Manton said, adding a lot of the leg work has already been done. Looking to the future, he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. “I think we’ve made some strong connections … We’re hoping they have a template they can put forward year after year.”

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