CANMORE – A major donation from the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation has allowed the Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) to teach its students to be safe in the backcountry of the Bow Valley.
A $734,000 donation from the foundation, applied for in the 2022-23 school year, will allow CRPS to facilitate one-of-a-kind learning opportunities for students, including Avalanche Skills Training (AST) courses. These courses will be provided through the CRPS Outdoor Learning Centre.
“All Grade 10 students will participate in the Outdoor Learning Centre Wim and Nancy Pauw Wilderness Experience Program,” said Chris MacPhee, superintendent of the CRPS. “Through this program, the students venture out of the Rocky Mountains six times to hike, canoe and snowshoe and be certified in AST-1 avalanche training.”
This is the second year of the AST-1 program. Last year, 100 students took part, and for the second year, 136 students will receive avalanche awareness skills.
“It is unrivalled in North America to see something like this,” MacPhee said. “We know our students will be playing in the mountains they were raised in, and this creates a higher level of safety in our student body.”
While other schools in North America provide the AST course to some students, CRPS is the only one in North America to offer it to all its students.
“I don’t believe there is anyone in North America that does the entire Grade 10 cohort,” MacPhee said.
Students will also learn voyageur canoeing and snowshoeing, but the funds will also help other students in other areas.
“The donation will also afford all students to access the Outdoor Learning Centre program,” MacPhee said. “Part of the donation – $325,000 – goes to the Outdoor Learning Centre to use to engage our Grade 9 students in locally-developed courses such as winter travel 15, wilderness first aid and water experience 15.”
There will also be $90,000 to provide Grade 7 to 12 students the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular athletics.
“At the high school level, the donation will offset student’s fees and transportation fees,” MacPhee said. “At the middle school level, the cost will subsidize most of the cost for athletics and educational endeavours.”
The funds are provided each year, growing from $30,000 in its first year, to more than $500,000 last year and $734,000 this year.
“It is one of the largest donations we give to any one organization annually, but it represents the long-term relationship we have built,” said Cathy Geisler, executive director of the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation. “Our goal is to understand the work that people are doing.”
Wim and Nancy Pauw created the foundation so they could share their passion for active, healthy lifestyles and embrace sports and recreation in the mountains with all residents and visitors. Reinvestment of tourism dollars into the community is a key focus for the foundation.
This is the tenth year that the Pauw Foundation has provided funds for student programming for CRPS.
“In recent years, the funding has expanded and benefitted all K-12 students,” MacPhee said. “This is not a situation where these funds are a one-shot deal. These are continuous year-over-year, increasing each and every year.”
Providing money to keep children safe in the backcountry was important for the foundation as more people begin to enjoy the outdoors.
“Hopefully, it is about prevention and preparation in advance so they are going out and making smart decisions,” Geisler said. “In the event that someone is in a situation where there is danger or they need to respond, it is a great opportunity that they have access to this type of training.”
The money provided by the foundation to the school district is incredibly important as it allows not only new programs to be introduced, but for programs to expand as well.
“This is unrivalled in all of North America, this type of donation,” MacPhee said. “These donations are extremely important, especially to a small school division like ourselves that would not otherwise have the means to do all of these different activities with our students.”
Choosing where the money goes and how much is a yearly task for the foundation.
“Each year we meet a couple of times, and we talk about what is happening in the community, where the challenges are, what families and students are facing,” Geisler said.