Trent Ernst, Editor
For the past week, a group of 25 grade seven and eight students from Baie-St-Paul in Quebec have been in Tumbler Ridge as part of the Experiences Canada Program.
Back in January, a similar number of Tumbler Ridge students traveled to Quebec as part of what was then called the Sevec program.
The idea behind the program is to create educational opportunities for Canadian youth the develop mutual respect and understanding through an exchange program, where students from one part of the country spend time in another part of the country, living with families there. In turn, students from those families then come to spend time in the other town.
Julie Pilote is an ESL teacher at Centre éducatif Saint-Aubin in Baie-Saint-Paul. This is the fifth such exchange that she’s taken students on, but the first time the kids have traveled so far or to such a small town.
“This was a totally different experience,” she says. “In the past, we have always ended into big cities: twice in Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa. Here is actually smaller than where we live. More outdoor activities.”
Earlier in the day, she says, she got together with the students for a wrap-up talk. “They were saying that they liked that it was a small community,” says Pilote. “They could walk around, and hang out together. And the people who live here are so great are so charming.”
Of course, she says, for many of the students, this was the first time they had a change to be in such an outdoorsy setting. “Many of the activities we did was the first time for many: Jet boating, camping at Gwillim in the teepees.” She laughs. “And it was great not having cell phone service all the time.”
Local teacher Stephanie Davis says it’s been a whirlwind week for her.
“It had been a fantastic experience it’s been fun. It’s been busy. There’s been some challenges but I would do it again.”
One of the challenges has been getting the groups to interact with each other. “The challenge has been integrating the two groups, she says. It’s already difficult for two groups two mix without the language barrier. When you put the language barrier there it becomes ten times harder. But throughout the week I’ve had kids come to me and say I’ve permed this. The exposure to the different language had been such a great part of the program.”
Alex Simard is one of the students who came here from Baie-St.-Paul. Before coming to Tumbler Ridge, the farthest west he’d been was Gatineau, near the Quebec/Ontario boundary. He has spent the week living with Principal Blaine Broderick and his family, including son Aidan, who is part of the program. What’s been Simard’s favourite part of the experience? “Being with Aidan,” quips Broderick. “No, going river boating and kayaking with Mr Broderick and his family,” says Simard. “That was was pretty cool.”
For Aidan, on the other hand, his favourite part of the experience was “all the hot French Canadian girls.”
Pilote says for her, she’s glad her students got a chance to experience small town life in BC. “I’m super happy with the experience,” she says.