From the classroom to a snow shelter: Students take what they learn about winter outside for the night

By Michelle Osmond

Kelly, a Halifax native with not much camping experience, had a few things going against her. She’s scared of the dark, hates the cold, doesn’t like enclosed spaces (including sleeping bags), has a fear of being suffocated by snow and is petrified of wild animals. When it was her turn, she didn’t expect it to go well.

This year, Dr. TA Loeffler, who has taught that course for the past 17 years, will take a total of 54 students to experience 24 hours existing and sleeping outside on a February night in Newfoundland.

The location of the trips has moved around based on weather patterns and camping restrictions. Dr. Loeffler takes her groups to Three Pond Barrens area of Pippy Park, which she describes as ‘an amazing teaching resource’ and ‘a mini wild place’. They haul in sleeping bags, stoves, sleds, shovels, a change of clothes, pots and pans, a first aid kit, an emergency beacon, and some ground cloths. They make their own shelter called a quinzhee, which involves mounding snow and hollowing it out to make a low-ceilinged living space.

“It invites them to put all their learning for the course together; a lived final exam of sorts. It also brings the class much closer together and enables me to get to know them better,” noted Dr. Loeffler.

She says the students do surprisingly well. “They are often surprised that it is warmer than they expected. They enjoy the social time we have in the evening; getting to spend time with their classmates outside the classroom. They like putting everything they learned to good use.”

Megan Conroy, a BPE graduate, is a teacher at St. Paul’s Junior High School in St. John’s. She has a lot of great memories of the night she spent outside like being able to spend a night in something you built purely out of snow, in the middle of a snowstorm. Like Kelly, Megan didn’t do much in the winter before this course

“The experience was absolutely a positive one … We were proud to have built something that was of high enough quality to spend the night. We were able to work as a team, in less than ideal conditions, to achieve a common goal.”

Megan says the course taught her skills she uses today in life and teaching. “It enabled group work skills such as communication and patience. It also very much enforced qualities such as adaptability, flexibility, work ethic, pride and determination.”

“This gave me experience in many new activities such as snowshoeing and cross country skiing, which are now part of my winter lifestyle. These are also now activities that I introduce to my own students so they can be aware of activities that promote physical activity in the winter time.”

Kelly James survived the most recent trip and calls it her greatest accomplishment at Memorial. “Looking back at how scared I was on the first day of the course seems foolish now, but I am so proud of myself for what I’ve accomplished … I’ve been able to step outside my comfort zone and enjoy new experiences. The overnight trip and this course have really opened my eyes to the experiences people can have through outdoor activity.”

“Despite the fact that I’d been dreading this trip for the past four years, I actually had a great time. Not many people can say that they survived a winter overnight camping trip in Newfoundland, but I can. Although I did enjoy myself, I don’t think that I’ll be sleeping outside again anytime soon.”

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