Since 1995, the Community Environmental Leadership Program (CELP) has been paving the way in alternative and experiential education for high school students throughout the city of Guelph. The program, which has an emphasis on outdoor education, building leadership skills, community engagement, and mentorship, is available to all students in Guelph entering the 10th and 12th Grades. “The program contains a diverse group of learners,” said Katie Gad, a teacher with the Upper Grand District School Board that teaches the program. CELP, also known as Community Environmental Leadership Program, is offered to students in Grade 10. Each student who participates earns four high school credits, including Grade 10 English, Physical Education, Careers and Civics, and Grade 11 Interdisciplinary Studies.
For the last few years, Grade 12 students participate in a program called Headwaters. Students are not required to have completed the 10th Grade Program in order to apply for Headwaters. Credits earned include Grade 12 University or College English, Interdisciplinary Studies, Environmental Resource Management, and Physical Education. Gad said she believes that experiential and hands-on learning is vital to students growing and understanding life beyond the classroom. Students that learn in hands-on environments benefit from the program, as well as more academic students who can escape the pressure of the classroom and explore the world beyond traditional schooling. High school students have the opportunity to leave their schools and social groups behind and come together with students from many different backgrounds. Gad said that most students form a close knit community, and their friendships are long-lasting. “By the end of the semester, the students start to feel like each other’s family,” she added. Both programs are based out of the Unitarian Universalist Church on York Road, where students will study topics beyond the classroom.
Students learn about a wide range of subjects, especially related to the outdoors and the environment. Topics of study include: logging, hands-on learning during overnight trips to Algonquin Park, journaling, conflict resolution with their peers, and role playing real-life scenarios. Students are currently working on making their own hand-crafted mukluks, and on April 1 the Grade 12 Students will be helping to run a local Maple Syrup Festival. Students who complete CELP and Headwaters also gain opportunities and exposure to learn from professionals in the community. Gad said graduates of the program have gone on to become organic farmers, work in the food industry or the environmental industry. However, other students pursue careers outside of the program and still find that the relationships gained and the experiences formed have helped them to grow as adult learners. “Experiential learning is critically important, because it’s how we learn for the rest of our lives beyond school,” said Gad, who stressed that the impact of a program like CELP and Headwaters is far-reaching, and individual to the students’ needs. “Hands on experience helps them to connect with the subject and makes a great impact,” she added. Although students entering Grades 10 and 12 are able to apply to either CELP or Headwaters up until the last day of February, late applications may be accepted. To find out more visit the Community Environmental Leadership Program’s website. Application instructions can be found here.
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