A Rocky View Schools (RVS) teacher has been involved with creating a program at his high school that could change the way schooling is done in the county.
The program is called ROAMS, or the Rivers, Oceans, and Mountains School, and it’s taught by Jander Talen, a teacher at Cochrane High School. The program, which is in its third year, is essentially an entire semester centered around outdoor education, where grade 10 students are taught core classes by Talen while also hiking and camping in the great outdoors. It’s a “school within a school” where students in grade 10 spend all day from 9:00 to 3:30 outside.
According to the official ROAMS website, the program is an opportunity for students to do schooling differently. One semester of outdoor education for grade 10 students to develop essential skills for life while also receiving class credit.
“ROAMS is something on paper,” said Talen. “But it’s so much more. It’s a student development opportunity and a student growth opportunity. It’s a chance for students to do things differently and I’m convinced that outdoor pursuits can provide a different level of student growth than most other experiences can.”
Talen shared stories of students who had completed the program before and were obviously better for it. “[All] these students are gaining wisdom as environmental stewards…[they’re] understanding and remembering that they’re not masters of an ecosystem, they’re a part of it.”
Talen has immense passion for the program and for his students and the idea for an outdoor education semester was a perfectly made match, but there was a problem. “My passion is environmental and outdoor education,” said Talen. “[B]ut I studied music and I’m actually supposed to be a music teacher, I actually still direct a choir. The problem was I had gaps in my knowledge that couldn’t really be met.”
Talen signed up for introductory courses in outdoor education and was eventually introduced to Christian Stenner, A National Geographic explorer who was brought in to present to one of Talen’s classes. Stenner informed Talen of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, a professional development opportunity for pre-K to grade 12 teachers, done in partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society. It was a Lindblad ship that took Talen to the Galapagos Islands.
For 10 days, Talen and other teachers from around the world explored the Galapagos with National Geographic guides. At the end of the trip. Talen said he “fell in love” with the Galapagos Islands and knew that the experience that he had, had to be shared with his students.
“Honestly, on this trip I felt more whole than I think I’ve felt in recent memory. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually,” said Talen. “What an amazing experience,” he thought. “How can I get that experience and feeling of wholeness and well-being for my students at a time like today?”
That is the purpose of ROAMS, to fill students with wellbeing and wholeness, and to help them return to a connection to nature. “We have lost that connection [to nature] and we need to instill that back in our students,” said Talen. “For their joy and well being..we need to find a gateway for our students to connect to the world.”
The ROAMS program will continue to be offered at Cochrane High and Talen hopes the idea will spread to other schools in the region.
“It’s all about finding connection,” he said. “There’s a real beauty that happens when we have real connection.”