The ArcticNet “Schools on Tundra” Program in Churchill: A new opportunity for high school students and teachers

Schools on Tundra Group at Prince of Wales Fort Schools on Tundra Group at Prince of Wales Fort
© Schools on Board - ArticNet

Natalie Asselin
Ecologist, Wapusk National Park

Wapusk News - Volume 6, 2013

Schools on Tundra, a new and exciting program for high school students and teachers, was developed to introduce participants to the diverse geology, biodiversity, cultural history and natural beauty of the Churchill area. This program, the result of a collaboration between Parks Canada, the ArcticNet Schools on Board outreach program, and the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, was piloted in Churchill in winter 2013.

Ten students and two teachers from Manitoba, and from as far away as Nunavut and Québec, arrived by train in Churchill on February 26 and immediately headed to the Churchill Northern Studies Center to begin their sub-arctic learning adventure. Over the course of their seven days in Churchill, the students and teachers were introduced to a variety of sub-arctic science topics, including snowpack and tree line monitoring, the aurora borealis, paleolimnology, geology and polar bear ecology.

On a seasonally cold March 1, Parks Canada interpreters Duane Collins and Karyne Jolicoeur-Funk, accompanied by polar bear attendant Jill Larkin, led the Schools on Tundra participants on a healthy, brisk walk across the frozen Churchill River to Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site. Through this first-hand experience, both students and teachers discovered the rich cultural and natural history of the Churchill area and the role Parks Canada plays in protecting and presenting Canada’s historical treasures.

A student from School on Tundra puts the final touches on a wolverine post A student from School on Tundra puts the final touches on a wolverine post
© Parks Canada

Not to be left out of the fun, on March 5 Jill Larkin, Parks Canada Resource Management Officer, and I went to the Churchill Northern Studies Center to introduce the students and teachers to the science side of our work in Wapusk National Park. Before long, everyone was equipped with snowshoes and heading out on a trek to check a wolverine post. The posts are part of a project Parks Canada is piloting to monitor wolverine abundance using passively collected hair samples (see article Parks Canada Research & Monitoring Highlights for more details). The students even got some hands-on experience as they set up an additional four posts that we will continue to monitor as spring arrives. Working in the cold and handling lure and fish, the students acquired a new appreciation for the realities of sub-arctic field research!

Parks Canada wishes to express appreciation to ArcticNet and the Schools on Board program, including Michelle Watts, Schools on Board Coordinator, for initiating the collaboration on this exciting new program. Parks Canada is also grateful to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre for its contribution to the success of the program.