Chris Green, Director of the Guelph Outdoor School, says they are in the business of freeing kids from the classroom setting once per week to come and learn in the woods!
Chris, a former French teacher, had worked with children in a traditional classroom where it became clear to him that an alternative outdoor-based program might be just what they needed. Having grown up in Erin, ON he was used to the outdoors. “I had a degree of comfort in the woods and I recognized it’s supportive properties,” Chris said. “Guelph didn’t have anything like that.”
Chris said at least 75 per cent of his students are also enrolled in conventional or remote-learning school the rest of the week. His programming has become a legitimate alternative for all children including those academically gifted.
Working with Innovation Guelph helped Chris become more aware of aspects of the business he could develop and focus on. IG supported the Guelph Outdoor School as it transitioned from sole proprietorship to becoming a service provider. “They got me thinking bigger and further down the road,” he said.
When starting out, Chris said he had not anticipated this level of popularity, interest and expansion. “I’m surprised by the level of interest and investment from the community,” he said. “I started with five students one half-day per week. Ten years later we have 300 to 400 students and 40 staff.”
Along the way, Chris has created great programs for kids and provided career opportunities for functional, inspirational adults who Chris has helped to integrate their skills and various disciplines into impactful experiences.
Prior to COVID, a big part of Chris’s job was filling spots in the programs he created, sometimes not breaking even until a few months into the program. Since COVID he hasn’t had to spend any money on promotion. “I can’t register everyone who is interested,” he said, explaining that they realized things had changed last summer when programs filled and fall programs tripled due to interest.
He suspects some parents may have been on the fence about enrolling their kids before. He says he thinks the COVID-related growth might be attributed to three things.
- Parents wanted a level of certainty that the children would have ongoing, reliable schooling.
- Life became stressful for kids and adults and time well spent in the forest became a good coping strategy.
- People wanted a safe, open-air program for their children to experience.
Over the years, Chris has learned that capacities can be developed and supported. Will, however, is priceless. “If someone is passionate about what they do, I can train them. Will, intention and vision are the most important.”
He has also learned that maintaining and enriching relationships is worth every moment it takes. Even as the school grows, it’s important to Chris to be responsive and invest in others. He has also learned the importance of telling the school’s story to show people why and how the school is supporting children in adapting to a rapidly changing world. “We need to illuminate what we offer and that by our existence and the work we do, we are also changing the community in which we operate.”
Chris said it has become clear that he needs to be bold in his vision, to find a way to make things happen and believe it will all work out! “I know that our community is willing to put the resources needed into this kind of program because it is more important than ever!”
To learn more about the Outdoor Outdoor Immersion and Mentorship Programs offered by The Guelph Outdoor School, please visit their website https://www.theguelphoutdoorschool.com/.