Any successful program has to be flexible and able to adjust to changing conditions. There was no shortage of such changing conditions, throughout our history. Whether it be finances, transportation, program sites, or staffing issues, we had to learn to cope and over time, the resiliency we built became one of our strengths.
Our biggest challenge came in 2003. It was at this time that the Ontario government long rumoured to be reducing the length of the diploma to 4 years finally occurred. As the 4 year diploma became a reality, BCP fell into an interesting challenge. Students could fit the program into their schedules, but it was increasingly difficult, and filling four semesters, as we had traditionally done, became quite challenging. It became clear that it was necessary to adapt to the 4 year change, for the survival of the Program as a whole. We had invested so much in adapting BCP to the older grades, that instead of moving BCP down, as some of our cloned programs had done, it made more sense for us to add another program at the Grade 10 level. So we started to build a Grade 10 integrated program with a range of core credits, that students could easily fit into their schedules. The challenge then was splitting out elements of BCP that would work well at the Grade 10 level, creating the branding, and encouraging the Halton schools into sending students in this new way.
And Trailhead was born. We thought the grade 4 Novice Earthkeepers Program (a single day introductory program) we had developed, was a nice fit with the Grade 10 age group, as a mentorship opportunity. So we moved all the Novice Programs over to the Trailhead groups to facilitate. These worked well, as they didn't involve overnights, so could easily fit into the day program of the Grade 10 curriculum. The Grade 10 students turned out to be a mixed success at the beginning. Because we were offering core credits, we attracted a healthy number of very motivated, academic students, interested in some variety in their education environment, and style of learning. Many of the students were very responsible, reliable, and fantastic leaders with the elementary kids. Our fears of grade 10 being too young only really materialized with students who were already struggling in the classroom. There was a demographic of more hands-on learners, who, combined with a younger age, became an interesting challenge, in an outdoor, more independent setting. Over time, the program developed a reputation for leadership and responsibility, and the blend of different kinds of learners and personalities worked itself out, to provide for some remarkably engaged leaders.
Trailhead really provided a fantastic outlet for these kids at this age to learn civics and careers in an alive, experiential setting. The grade 10 students were also closer in age to the grade 4s, which became a real benefit, as the elementary kids looked up to them, could see themselves in the high school students, as their role models. This had a circular effect, giving the high school students confidence, and also provided accountability to their actions. As the elementary kids would copy everything the high school students did -- the way they spoke, the language they used, the way they moved their hand through their hair. It would all be copied, and the older students quickly learned their behaviour had an impact. It was profound how much this dynamic influenced the Trailhead students to consider their language, and be intentional about how they spoke and dressed. And there was such a wonderfully positive effect on the grade 4 kids, as they learned from these older students how to be in the world. There was a very different connection than was available between a teacher and their students.
At the onset we had Trailhead And the BCP operating at different sites. It wasn’t long though before it became obvious that the site rental and transportation costs were became challenged by school board officials. Ultimately, it was decided that to save the programs, it was necessary to have both BCP and Trailhead operate at one site. Trailhead then moved to the quite lovely site of the BCP at Sidrabene , a Local Latvian camp, and, after a couple of semesters of adjustment, ran extremely well for another fifteen years. Before Provincial budget cuts spelled its demise.