Grand Prairie, AB – Peace Wapiti Academy students are the new protectors of the Peace Region’s wetlands. Through a partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada, Peace Wapiti Academy students receive training and mentorship to lead wetland stewardship as part of their coursework. It’s part of a newly launched Wetland Centre of Excellence in Grande Prairie designed to engage and empower young people in meaningful nature-based experiences.
The Wetland Centre of Excellence was officially launched yesterday at an event held at the Boreal Wetland Centre located in Evergreen Park. This is the second Wetland Centre of Excellence in Alberta and the first in the Peace Region. Here, students get the chance to learn outdoors, practice conservation techniques with Ducks Unlimited Canada staff and discover what it means to be an active, environmentally responsible citizen.
“The best way to teach conservation is through hands-on outdoor learning,” says Kylie McLeod, head of boreal conservation programs at Ducks Unlimited Canada. “It’s more engaging, more relevant and helps students build deep, lifelong connections with nature and with their community.”
Ducks Unlimited Canada’s 27 Wetland Centres of Excellence across the country set up high school students as stewards of their local wetlands. The program focuses on student-led conservation and, at the end of the year, mentored field trips for elementary school students. Through this model, students learn about the critical functions wetlands perform, such as providing habitat, natural disaster minimization, mitigating climate change, and filtering upstream water to support cleaner lakes and rivers. They also learn about conservation practices, careers, and foster their leadership and teaching skills.
Peace Wapiti Academy students have already completed projects, including helping to build trails at the Boreal Wetland Centre. Students cut and raked a new loop trail to be used for large events such as Walk Through the Forest hosted by the Grande Prairie Environment & Science Education Society, for which the students were trained to play a mentorship role. Approximately 1,000 Grade 6 students and teachers tour the site during the annual event.
“This partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada through the Wetland Centre of Excellence program has been such a great opportunity to connect real world conservation and outdoor learning with our in-school classes,” says Julian Camsell, outdoor education teacher at Peace Wapiti Academy. “Having the students be a part of the development of the Boreal Wetland Centre on an ongoing basis will allow them to see the long-term effects of their labour in a way that gives back to their community.”
“It’s been a great opportunity to participate in the Wetland Centre of Excellence program,” says Keagan Kelln, student at Peace Wapiti Academy. “My experiences have changed the ways I view the outdoors and has given me the opportunity to look at nature from a conservation point of view. Not to mention the hands-on experience gained while working with friends who share the same passion for nature I do.”
The Boreal Wetland Centre provides a natural home for the Wetland Centre of Excellence program in the Peace Region, as the interpretive trails are well established with programming coordinated by Ducks Unlimited Canada. Peace Wapiti Academy students are encouraged to carry out conservation projects here, as well as other wetland sites throughout the Peace Region.
“It’s been great having Peace Wapiti Academy involved in supporting programming at the Boreal Wetland Centre. We’re excited to see what future projects they come up with, whether it be installing citizen science projects, working with our research partners, or entirely new ideas that are driven by the students,” says Rick Murray, Ducks Unlimited Canada Boreal Wetland Centre coordinator. “The Peace Region is such a unique landscape for wetlands and I’m excited to see how future projects extend beyond the Boreal Wetland Centre.”
Funding for the Boreal Wetland Centre is generously provided by the Forest Resources Improvement Association of Alberta, which is a collaboration between several partners including Canfor, Mercer Peace River, West Fraser, and Weyerhaeuser. Additional funding for the Wetland Centre is provided by Alliance Pipeline, Hammerhead Resources, and TC Energy.
featured image: Peace Wapiti Academy students and staff attend the official launch of the Wetland Centre of Excellence at the Boreal Wetland Centre in Grande Prairie. (CNW Group/Ducks Unlimited Canada)