Andie Flett is the girl’s Grade 8/9 Coordinator, head of the Vermont Dorm, and an Award Leader with the International Award. This is the short version of her interview. To read the full interview, click here.
What’s your background in outdoor education?
It started with summer camp in Algonquin Park, Ontario, from the age of six to 16. Then, after a 100-day wilderness course with the National Outdoor Leadership School, I came back as one of the first female guides that the Taylor Statten Camps hired. The transition from being a camper to being a leader is when I fully realized how important the outdoors was in my life, and how much I loved sharing it with others.
Did it also influence your fellow students in Algonquin Park?
One of my campmates was just elected prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. His outdoor camp experience came up in his election campaign. I think that for most people outdoor education has a really profound effect.
Do you think that it will translate to LAS students, too, with their non-outdoor backgrounds?
Absolutely. In thinking about outdoor education now, going on 25 years as an instructor in the field, I start to look at it simply as education, as human education. It just happens to take place in an outdoor classroom. Students learn how to work as a group, how to deal with difficult situations, and how to stretch their comfort zones. Those skills translate into anything you do.
Most of our students come with little experience of the outdoors. What kind of challenges does that pose for LAS?
I’ve thought a lot about that. Outdoor ed is not really about learning how to camp, nor even about hiking or cooking over a fire, because those might not be skills that they really need in the future. It’s about the self and group education that just happens to take place in an outdoor classroom. I think the challenge for the instructor is designing outdoor experiences that will make our students feel successful. We have to set them up for success. For students this is a huge scary change from anything they’ve ever known. But I’ve seen success happen through the International Award and the LAS Alpine Club. I’ve seen the rewards that it gives the kids, so it’s absolutely possible.
Do examples come to mind?
Last year we had about 15 students on an overnight camping trip. We designed an experience that was safe and where they could be successful. Everybody’s shoes had to be examined, everybody had to have the right jacket, and it was raining when we started hiking. But we got 15 kids out the door on an overnight camping trip. A number of those students went out again the following weekend, when they got snowed on pretty heavily even though it was the middle of May. But they had a great time! I really believe that these experiences make them more confident as people because they know they can survive and adapt outside of their comfort zones. Ultimately, we are pushed outside of our comfort zone a lot as adults.
Several students told me that this camping trip was their favorite outdoor experience, largely because of the snow and the storm.
Outward Bound was founded by Kurt Hahn, who also founded the DoE’s International Award. We take students on an Outward Bound experience during their 10th grade cultural trip every year. Challenge is one of their guiding principles. Outward Bound says, “We push youth out of their comfort zone and by doing so we make their comfort zone bigger.” Our students are going through a scary period in their lives. Everything around them is changing. We forget that even when they act confident, they might be feeling insecure. We need to help them believe in themselves. I saw those kids come back from that snowy camping trip with that look that’s the payback for me in outdoor education, that look of “I can’t believe I did that.” To me that’s gold.
(AI – interview Andie Flett 151119 – short edit 1 (650 words))