Stories & Features

In southeast B.C., Wild Voices draw students outside the classroom

Image of Shannon Bennett leading the Wild Voices Winter Safety and Survival program
Shannon Bennett leads the Winter Safety and Survival program in Rossland, one of many programs delivered under the Wild Voices initiative.

Science and sustainability the focus of outdoor education program

It all started in B.C. School District 6, a natural fit given schools in the district are nestled up against the Rocky Mountains. And it has since spread to all six of the Columbia Basin's school districts.

You just can't keep Wild Voices down. Not when kids and teens are heading outdoors to study the likes of A Bug's Life, All About Bats, Grizzlies in the Kootenays, and Incredible Edibles: Nature's Wild Foods and Medicines.

"The educators who deliver the programs are the ones who design them," says Christine Park, interim Wild Voices program manager. "They often come to us with the ideas, based on their areas of expertise and interests."

The sheer variety of skills and backgrounds of Wild Voices educators is impressive.

Shannon Bennett, who teaches the Incredible Edibles program, has a BSc in earth science and has worked since the early 1980s as a park naturalist in Alberta and B.C.

Mireille Evans, who runs Animal Speak, a program that explores the tracks and signs left by various animals, is a primitive skills instructor with the Four Nations Coalition and is a regular at youth and summer camps.

Dave Quinn, who runs programs ranging from back country food prep and avalanche skills, to that Grizzlies in the Kootenays program, is a wildlife biologist, teacher and wilderness guide who's also an accomplished photographer and writer.

Wild Voices is one of many programs overseen by the non-profit Columbia Basin Environmental Network (CBEEN), whose goal is to grow and strengthen the network of environmental educators in the region. CBEEN is one of dozens of B.C. environmental and sustainability organizations to receive a 2020 community grant from BC Hydro.

Image of Ayala Bennett teaching the Wild Voices Turtle Truths program
Ayla Bennett normally teaches her Turtle Truths program outdoors. But after the pandemic hit, she turned to the online presentation for a look at the history of turtles, with a focus on B.C.'s amazing Western Painted Turtle.

Wild Voices offers online presentations, but is itching to get back outside

Like so many programs, Wild Voices needed to cancel spring programming when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down B.C. schools. Fortunately they were able to deliver 14 programs online by the end of the 2020.

Ultimately, Wild Voices wants to be able to get back into the great outdoors.

"For obvious reasons, online is not really the most accessible format for students," says Park. "But we sort of ran with what we had at the time, and were really surprised with the success of the program."

About BC Hydro's community grants program

Each summer, BC Hydro provides community grants to B.C. non-profit and charitable organizations. This year, 79 grants were awarded to community-based projects, for a total of more than $209,000 in funding for community groups across the province.

Grants are given out in three focus areas: building the workforce of tomorrow, safety education, and developing smart energy ideas. Learn more about grant criteria and application deadlines.