27. Outdoor education, checklists, and staying safe in the outdoors, with Mike Horembala

Mike Horembala and his friends go for a paddle in the outdoors.

Today we explore one of the many ways the CanLyme Educators’ Resource can be put into action. In this podcast, Sarah reaches Mike Horembala in the Foothills of Alberta. Mike, known to his students as “Mr. H’, is a Vice Principal and teacher with a passion for the outdoors. He developed a program within the Foothills School District called “Go Wild,” where students can learn about the outdoors while earning credits.

Students participate in day trips and multi-day expeditions… hiking, canoeing, kayaking, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing amongst many other outdoor activities. They’ve even gone on an eco-tourism adventure to Belize! We’d have to agree with Mike when he says “pinch me” – what a great opportunity for students and educators alike!

Mike Horembala and his friends go for a paddle in the outdoors.

Antidote to nature deficit disorder

Mike describes outdoor education programs as an antidote to “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a term coined by Richard Louv based on our disconnect from the natural world. Mike notes that not only do behaviour issues seen in the classroom often fall away when kids get outdoors, but those kids are likely to become leaders in the outdoor environment.

“[Outdoor education] is important for every kid… instead of sitting in rows… to get out and all of a sudden regain that sense of curiosity that they’ve always had.”

Mike Horembala

He also sees outdoor adventure as a way to foster a sense of curiosity and independence. Balancing these incredible learning opportunities with rigorous safety protocols and processes is something Mike takes very seriously. In his classroom, the safety protocols themselves serve as valuable learning tools that students will retain as they become independent outdoor enthusiasts.

Tick encounters 

Mike became interested in ticks and Lyme disease after a couple of his students had tick encounters while on outdoor trips. He started to do his own research and recognized the need to bring what he learned into his teaching in order to keep his students safe in the outdoors.

Along with understanding potential tick habitats, he also sees the climate change curriculum as an opportunity to understand how tick populations can change from year to year. He notes that these changes can lead to the establishment of tick populations further north, increasing the probability of tick encounters.

“Our duty of care as educators is way higher than parents, and so we live in a world of risk management…Number One and paramount is safety of the kids.”

Mike Horembala

Tick checks on the checklist

Mike points out that the duty of care is much higher for educators than it is for parents, and that safety protocols are paramount for risk management in the outdoors. He refers to a book called “The Checklist Manifesto” which provides a framework for risk management. Tick checks are incorporated into the trip checklist so they won’t be overlooked.

Mike also sees trip preparation as an opportunity to learn about ticks and plan ahead for possible tick encounters. He advocates having a “healthy respect” about the dangers of ticks. Trip preparation also includes packing a tick removal kit, wearing long pants tucked into socks, and understanding tick habitats. Tick checks are scheduled, done and checked off the list several times throughout the day including lunchtime and at the bus after the trip.

After reviewing the CanLyme Educators’ Resource, Mike has added another reminder to the protocol for students to check for ticks during their post trip shower at home. He refers to an anonymous reminder app that sends a timed reminder to students when they get home. Mike believes that teaching kids the “why” behind actions is fundamental to their learning and behaviour. He also hopes his students will take what they’ve learned and help their families become educated and adopt preventative practices.

“We’ve added tick checks as a checkbox on our list that we do at various points during the trip.”

Mike Horembala

Resource for educators

With the expansion of outdoor programs, Mike would like to see tick and Lyme disease education and safety protocols expand as well. This could occur at various levels within the education system, and within the curriculum, similar to the bear and snake safety within the current curriculum. He sees the CanLyme Educators’ Resource as a valuable learning tool, and looks forward to incorporating material from the Resource into his classes.

Sarah notes that any feedback about the CanLyme Educator’s Resource is greatly appreciated and that the next draft of the resource is now being developed. Mike would like to see tick and Lyme disease education adopted not only at higher levels of the education system, but also within the curriculum similar to the bear and snake safety in the current curriculum. He would also like to see it incorporated into training for outdoor groups such as Outdoor Council of Canada, Paddle Canada and through networking and social media platforms. Thank you Mr. H for joining us today and for everything you do to get students into nature and help to keep them safe!

“They’ve really got to understand the ‘why’ before they’re going to adopt a practice… and once you have that ‘why’ down for them… they’ll be able to make that, hopefully, part of their personal practices, or when they go on their first family trip in the summer that they’re telling their parents “hey, we’ve got to do the tick check’, and that for me is the ultimate, ultimate goal.”

Mike Horembala

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