Growing knowledge

High school students get a chance for some real, hands-on work at the ADSS Christmas tree farm.

ADSS students work at the school's Christmas tree farm on Airport Road.

It’s been a busy season for the Alberni District Secondary Christmas tree farm.

“It’s been really good—good Christmas tree season, good educational season with the kids, they’re learning all sorts of stuff,” said ADSS project based learning forestry teacher Ryan Dvorak.

This is the third year the ADSS kids have sold Christmas trees at the farm, which was originally built by Shawn Flynn and Dave McBride—who made up Greenmax—in 1997.

“We cleared the land, planted the trees and started the farm,” said Flynn. Last year, Flynn sold the farm and now helps the school with the project based learning class.

“It gives them their first chance to get exposed to real work and to do the things that you can actually get paid for. And it’s volume—they go through 1,000 trees a season.”

Dvorak agrees.

“This is our Project Based Learning program and our forestry program so this is a good opportunity to get the students out and show them what actual work is and what business is,” said Dvorak.

“The fact that the school district owns it provides an extra level of impetus in terms of understanding how to go from a seedling to this,” he added, gesturing around the eight-hectare farm.

“They look at profit, expenses, the whole business behind it.”

It also provides a different way to learn. Students in Grades 9–10 are involved in the project based learning program. The students are out on the farm for two days a week per program.

“We’ve got a Grade 9 program, which is an academic-based program for outdoor learning. That program has 24 students that look at math, English, science and social studies,” said Dvorak.

“But this is their classroom for half the year—out here on our Christmas tree farm and on the woodlot.”

The Grade 10s take that one step further. “It’s looking at connecting students with an idea of where they might want their future to go in terms of trades or post-secondary opportunities around schooling,” said Dvorak.

“Specifically, it looks at the business behind how this runs—digging really deep into the idea of what running a business takes, a little bit about entrepreneurship, trades associated with working in natural resource management.”

The end result is to leave the students with an education that looks at both theory and practice.

“The purpose of the program is to make the theory real. Here’s how you calculate the volume of a cylinder and now we’re actually going to go scale the log—and that’s a job you can get paid for.”

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With a mix of practical experience, the program gives kids interested in all sorts of different career fields ideas for their futures.

Jimmy Hassle has already gotten a head start on a career in natural resources.

“I do heli-logging and shake blocking on the weekends and firewood in between,” said the Grade 10 student. This is just another opportunity for Hassle to get out of the classroom and apply the skills he’s learning.

“You value the skills a lot more than being at a desk all day,” he said.

But even students who aren’t looking at a career in forestry are inspired by the program.

Elyse Warm joined for the opportunity to explore a subject she otherwise wouldn’t have—and to pick up some tips.

“My passion is teaching,” Warm said. “It shows me a different way to teach—makes it a lot easier and nicer to learn.”

With an ever changing education system, she sees taking a new type of class as getting in on the ground floor. “This is starting to develop but there might be more opportunities to teach like this.”

The Christmas tree farm acts a source of revenue for the school as well.

All of the proceeds go back to ADSS and last year, the girls’ rugby team toured Ireland as a result.

“We have a partnership with the ADSS rugby club—they take over the u-cut part of the operations and this crew deals with the wholesale application.”

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