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FACES: Not your typical summer camp experience

Thursday, 31 August 2017. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

FACES: Not your typical summer camp experience
Ola Newrick of Crowsnest Pass shows her symbolic FACES mask created at camp.

“My mask didn’t really turn out how I wanted — it was meant to be all floral and pretty,” she says. “My good friend Carter turned to me and said, ‘There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.’ After that I was determined to make my mask a happy accident.”

“The pink represents how I come across to my friends — happy, carefree, confident and outgoing. However, the grey cloud shows that in my head not everything is so easy and that I really do have a lot of worries that I’m keeping to myself,” Ola says. “Finally, the lips represent the smile I always give and put on, and that I’m always speaking positively because I don’t want to put my negativity on my friends.”   Photo by Rachel Newrick

FACES: Not your typical summer camp experience

By Shannon Robison

You may have heard teenagers, parents and teachers speak highly of the Facilitating Awareness and Character building Experiences for Students program. To spend an evening listening to students share their experiences and watching them reunite with their families, gives one a completely different perspective of this summer camp.

The program is designed to help teens by teaching them the tools to make good choices, which will make them feel empowered and valued in their homes, their schools and their communities.

It was founded by Rick Bullock, with a pilot project in 1999, and has been running at full steam since 2000. It has evolved over the years and Rick says the camp’s unique experiential nature gives it the power to be whatever it needs to be for every kid.

Students are unplugged during camp sessions. Rather than texting and hanging out on social media, they are immersed in challenging outdoor activities like white-water canoeing, running, mountain climbing, rappelling, swimming and hiking. This culminates in a 50-kilometre out trip.

“It’s not for those who aren’t looking for a challenge,” Rick quips.

“The activities are the arm of a more meaningful curriculum — it’s about their own self-awareness, their capacity to take risks and to do challenging things,” he says. Everything leads to success and course requirements represent a significant body of educational work.

“It’s not Mickey Mouse,” Rick adds.

Parent night wraps up each session but does not represent the end of the FACES experience. It gives parents a taste of what their kids have gone through, so they can support them through the coursework expected after camp ends and on their path going forward.

Rick’s vision was to create a camp in direct opposition to what he saw as “a generation of kids suffering from the self-esteem model,” based on Nathaniel Branden’s 1969 book The Psychology of Self-Esteem.

“We’ve done kids a huge disservice,” he says. “Kids now don’t want to take risks and are afraid to try.”

The principles of FACES are in direct opposition to this — students are invited to come, to try and to take risks. Rick says they accomplish something significant and understand through doing and by connecting head and heart.

“You may fail and it’s OK,” he adds. “Kids need to learn this.”

Final sessions held Friday night at Gladstone Mountain Ranch and Conference Centre near Pincher Creek and at Gold Eye Conference Centre in Nordegg wrapped up the camp season after 10 sessions at Gladstone and three at Gold Eye.

The Gladstone Lodge was a busy place in the hour before parents were scheduled to arrive for the wrap-up. Kids were everywhere — sweeping floors, setting up chairs and preparing to host an evening of sharing. No one complained; they went about what needed to be done with cheerful anticipation of seeing their families for the first time in 12 days.

These students were all from Chinook High School in Lethbridge.

Session leader and FACES co-owner Dave Orr began with an important announcement. Because parents hadn’t been in contact with their kids throughout the session, he felt it pertinent to tell them about the bears before the students began sharing their stories.

On their out trip, the group encountered two bears and one walked into their camp.

“Within 10 seconds there was a line of bear spray between the bear and the kids, and in under one minute all were accounted for.” He noted that he was proud of both the students and staff for what was communicated at full sprint.

Several students shared deeply personal stories behind the symbolic masks each created. Their comments were mature, insightful and brutally honest.

“The mask represents the face I wear when I’m feeling vulnerable or need to be protected,” said one young man. “I know now that I can make the choice of whether to wear the mask or be my true self. Every time I look at it, it will remind me of how I’ve changed.”

“Things don’t need to be perfect to be beautiful,” said another camper.

A particularly powerful description came from a young woman whose mask had words painted across it. The words on one side were descriptors others had called her to her face — ugly, stupid, useless, weak, anorexic and a waste of space.

The room was silent as she paused for a moment in her presentation. She carried on with words she felt better described herself after the FACES journey — insightful, smart, perfect, compassionate, beautiful, kind and loving.

In less than two weeks she found courage and built enough trust to share this profound shift in thought not only with her peers and session leaders, but with a room filled with strangers.

Trust was a word heard again and again as students shared impact statements.

As the teenagers spoke, their leaders beamed and shared knowing looks between themselves. Parents nudged one another and were obviously moved by the stories.

“I can’t remember the last time I felt so proud of myself,” said one girl in summary. A month earlier she had hoped Aug. 14 (the first day of camp) would never come.

The evening started and ended with rousing cheers, high fives and contagious smiles.

Five hours away, Ola Newrick of Crowsnest Pass was taking part in the Nordegg parent night. She hadn’t expected to attend camp this year, but grabbed a last-minute spot that opened up for the final northern FACES session.

While most aspects of the two camps were the same, the session at Nordegg was deemed an extreme wilderness challenge.

Ola was interested in a fun summer camp and in earning the high school credits that accompany FACES participation. In the end, she came away with far more than she had imagined.

“It was the best camp ever!” she proclaimed. “It was incredible and I didn’t expect to take so much away from it.”

For Ola, the camp highlight was the 50-kilometre hike. Students were left on their own to return the final 15 kilometres to camp. “We all completed this as a group because we stuck together.”

The eyes of session leaders were on students the entire way, but they learned they were capable of stepping into leadership roles, carrying their own weight and helping one another to achieve a common goal.

While some were scared during the rock-climbing or canoeing expeditions, Ola found creation of the mask to be most challenging for her.  

“We had to be still for a couple of hours,” she says. “You had to keep your eyes closed as your face was covered, you couldn’t see or talk and could only breathe through your nose — it was freaky and you had to trust your partner.”

She says it felt good to open up when discussing the symbolism of her mask. “FACES establishes trust in the first days and in this safe community you feel like you can tell anyone anything,” she adds.

While the camp experience is over, students will carry on with several 16-hour projects. They are to continue with their daily runs, create a plan to bring their family together and another to build community by helping others.

Ola has kept up with the running and is considering strategies for the other two projects. This may involve volunteering at Parent Link or at the animal shelter. She hopes to bring the sense of safe community with her as she enters the Livingstone School Ski Academy next week.

“It was life-changing and I definitely came out a better person,” Ola concludes.

Her sister and guardian, Rachel Newrick, already thought Ola was a fabulous kid.

She appreciated the unplugged time while Ola was away and thinks this helped the teens to be present in the experience and to stay focused.

Rachel describes parent night as an “event of 1,000 hugs.” She says Ola was bubbling with energy and they walked late into the evening to listen to her stories.

Rachel had heard only positive feedback about FACES and feels lucky they were able to get Ola in this summer.

The program is sponsored by Livingstone Range School Division and next year will be limited to students moving from Grade 9 to Grade 10. Rick Bullock says this is due to a change in the funding model.

“LRSD is a very valued partner and has been behind us all 18 years,” Rick says. “Not every school division would sponsor a program like this.”

Additional funding comes from Alberta Education. With this combined support, LRSD students attend camp for a registration fee of $50.

“We are committed to and proud of the fact the FACES is open to everyone and that dollars won’t keep anyone away,” Rick says.

Students earn 15 high school credits in locally developed courses — FACES 12, 25 and 35.

“I have great staff,” Rick says. “Great people from all over Canada who are amazing and diverse. Many are on their own personal path and want to make a difference in the lives of kids.”

This summer, 55 staff members guided 406 students on the FACES journey.

Dave Orr, who led the Chinook session, has been Rick’s business partner since 2008 and has found it to be a powerful experience as both a leader and as an educator.

Dave teaches at Chinook and, as an added bonus, his son Tal was a student in the session.

“I had to kind of ignore him,” Dave says. “I didn’t want to single him out or favour him. It’s hard enough to go through a powerful experience knowing that Dad may be watching.”

Dave feels there are two ways to view education. One is simply as a way to get kids through the system. The other is a transformative model.

This includes having some blurry lines, as some experiences produce when building trust between teachers and students. He says this puts him in a better situation as a teacher to reach their hearts.

This was Chinook teacher Eva LeBlanc’s second year at FACES.

“The experience adds a powerful piece to the respect students feel toward us as teachers,” she says. “It adds a beautiful dynamic to the classroom.”

She has watched students take what they have learned at FACES and become leaders who engage, participate and inspire others and says they are fortunate to go back to a school that believes in growth mindset.

Eva says the bear experience brought everyone closer and commends every student for rising to the challenge.

Over 400 FACES students will come together for a retreat in October to finalize the course.

In the meantime, they will continue connecting what they’ve learned to their daily lives and use their masks as reminders of how far they have come.

To learn more about FACES, visit www.faceseducation.website.

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Behind the FACES program at Gladstone are, from left, registrar and session leader Eliza Grose, founder and session leader Rick Bullock, partner and session leader Dave Orr and marketing manager and overseer of the audio visual side of the program, Sam Schofield.  Photo by Shannon Robison

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From the August 30, 2017 print edition of Shootin’ the Breeze.
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