Haliburton Highlands Secondary School students work at a Haliburton residence as part of the Environmental Specialist High Skills Major program offered at the local high school during the second semester. Students in Grade 11 and 12 are eligible to take this program which provides real-world learning./DARREN LUM Staff

HHSS students embrace real world learning

Local teen Jake Hudson has an affinity for experiential learning and regularly looks forward to the classroom of life offered at the  high school.

The Environmental Specialist High Skills Major program gives Jake a Haliburton Highlands Secondary School student real life learning to prepare him for employment in the county and beyond. This could be forestry construction or eco-tourism. It is a smorgasbord of skills and expectations related to local industries.

The provincially offered high skills major program which also includes a focus on hospitality and tourism is open to Grade 11 and 12 students interested in developing a better sense of what they want to pursue whether it’s working towards an apprenticeship/co-operative training college university or the workplace.

Through the program the students learn skills inter-personal communication and acquire industry certifications including first aid lock out tag out WHMIS and CPR qualifications.

They also learn about the AED (Automated External Defibrillator) take the Canadian Firearms and Hunter Safety course work with heights and confined spaces. At HHSS the delivery of the program caters to the specific needs of local students said its teachers Derek Little and Steve Smith.

An ongoing partnership with the Haliburton County Home Builders Association is in the process of expanding and will include learning about the concepts related to quarries Little said.

Every week there was a new experience for the 16 participating students. The program includes a dual science credit (a college course in high school) taught by a Fleming College instructor held once a week on Tuesday from January to May.

The credit can be used for college.

Students finish with five course credits which includes a co-op and environmental science credits.

At each new job site students not only acquire skills but learn to resolve problems as they arise gaining confidence and empowerment.

When the students are at a job site they have an experience they can apply to the working world at an apprenticeship or a paying job.

They also learn to work in a team and practice adapting to different rules and expectations of a job site or a client. In their experience over the three months of the course they develop a sense of responsibility and professionalism whether that is related to developing a work ethic or meeting clients’ demands and needs.

The ever-changing landscape and the opportunity to be outside of school appeals to Jake.

“I find I learn stuff being outside instead of someone teaching me [in a class]” he said.

The forestry work learning how to operate a chainsaw cutting trees or just being on the job site was the most memorable and enjoyable.

Work this past semester included community efforts such as filling sandbags to assist with Minden flood relief; job-related work learning forestry techniques like notching a back-cut; using tools such as chainsaws to clear property or preparing logs for different uses; forestry wildlife and eco-tourism with time at the Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve; and landscaping work including the beautification of the Abbey Gardens property during a two-day work assignment.

The course has taken him out of the classroom and out into the world helping him discover places inside and outside the county such as Muskoka’s Camp Wenonah which was opened by the Hal High students over the course of a weekend.

The program’s teachers Smith and Little he said are ideal for this course because of their


Little sits at a picnic table just a few feet from his students who are busy with splitting wood and cutting logs with a chainsaw during the production of 500 face cords. His eyes widen and his voice grows as he speaks about this specialist high skills major course and the students who take it.

The students in the course are exuberant he said. Many students who would otherwise be absent from school come regularly for his course. They are engaged and interested in learning.

This program does more than encourage the students’ excitement. It focuses it helping them feel empowered and optimistic about the future. It slows everything down for the students so they can be alert focused on the variety of tasks taking into account the necessary safety measures to address dangers for themselves and their peers. Felling a tree weighing several hundred pounds is exciting but not without peril and the program teaches safety practices.

Little adds what his students learn about operating a chainsaw for example is far and away much more comprehensive than the typical three-day course available to the public.

He points out chainsaw operators have the most dangerous job in the world and emphasizes this point to his students as part of the lesson.

Many of these students he said will now be on a path towards being employable in local industries if they hope to stay in the area and work. This program will prepare them to develop the skills and mindset to find work in local industries that provide employment such as the forestry and construction.

Jake credits the program with getting him thinking about careers. He doesn’t know the exact details yet but believes in the forestry industry as a viable future.

“[Working in] forestry? That’s what I love. I love being out in the woods and stuff. I would definitely think of going into that now” he said.