The CEDAR Summer Camp Program

Submitted by Mette Bach

2009 CEDAR Summer Camp participants enjoy camp activities at the First Nations Longhouse.  Photo submitted by the CEDAR Program.

2009 CEDAR Summer Camp participants enjoy camp activities at the First Nations Longhouse. Photo submitted by the CEDAR Program.

The CEDAR Summer Camp is an initiative that involves at least fifty volunteers from various departments at UBC. The program welcomes forty Aboriginal youth from the Lower Mainland each year to take part in fun experiments, workshops, and hands-on learning. CEDAR, which stands for Cross-cultural Education through Demonstration, Activity and Recreation, has just completed its fifth successful year. What feels like fun and games to the participants of the camp is actually an educational triumph.

Tim Michel, Aboriginal Coordinator for the Faculties of Science and Land and Food Systems and the visionary lead behind CEDAR, is pleased that the program has solidified itself amongst other summer day camps. CEDAR is here to stay!

The CEDAR Program’s unique approach to education is to encourage young Aboriginal students (aged 8-12) to develop a comfortable relationship with UBC instructors, classrooms, and the campus in general. “We need to address the gap between the academy and Aboriginal youth,” says Michel who is well aware that the efforts he has put forward for the past several years may not show concrete results for another few years. However, as Michel explains there is more to CEDAR than just that: “CEDAR is about relationships. It’s about creating space in the minds of everyone involved. It’s as much for the parents and UBC faculty and for the undergraduate students as it is for the kids who participate.”

CEDAR fosters community within the program itself in that it encourages parents and kids to form lasting connections with each other. However, it is also about creating community at the university level. Bringing together representatives from so many different faculties encourages interdisciplinary studies and engagement with fields outside of one’s own. As CEDAR Assistant Program Coordinator, Jackie Dee, notes: “It’s hard to establish a science community.” Since CEDAR brings together over fifty volunteers each year—some who work hands-on with the campers during the two week camp and others who come to instruct, give tours, or provide examples of their work on campus—community and discussion happen organically.

Of course, at its core, CEDAR is for the campers. Tim Michel’s vision is that attendees will come back to CEDAR year after year and feel supported throughout their elementary and high school experiences. Once they graduate, coming to UBC (or other universities) will therefore seem like second nature. Though CEDAR cannot control the future decisions of its campers, it seeks to remove any barriers to learning that students may face. As such, healthy breakfasts and lunches are provided, as is transportation from Vancouver’s Britannia School to the First Nations Longhouse where the camp meets each morning. There is no cost to the camper’s parents and guardians, a fact that many cite as a major reason for their ability to participate in the program. For its efforts to remove barriers to learning, CEDAR has received the generous support of independent and university-affiliated funds like NSERC.

In the five years since the launch of CEDAR, Tim Michel has watched it grow and take on new momentum as more professors, students, and departments came on board, donating time and materials. Michel’s vision for CEDAR has expanded just as the camp itself has. Currently, he is working toward documenting CEDAR methods and techniques, creating blueprints of the CEDAR program to be passed along to other universities and colleges across B.C. “There’s no reason why we can’t be encouraging this kind of program en masse throughout the province,” says Michel who is committed to seeing a significant shift in Aboriginal enrolment at the post secondary level.

Among the many great workshops at this summer’s CEDAR camp was a new addition: Mitch Krupp, from the First Nations Technology Council, guided campers through a GPS map-making project. Campers went for a nature hike in Pacific Spirit Park where they recorded points of interest on GPS tracking devices. Mitch then showed them how to make maps using actual cartography software. In the Forestry building’s computer lab, he explained how to inlay GPS points on top of a photo of UBC and a regional map of Greater Vancouver so that campers could track exactly where they had been.

Mitch brings GPS devices and his knowledge regarding such to First Nations communities across the province. As he says: “It is neat to see where you saw a dead tree or a big rock but it would be even more interesting to gather information about where you went fishing or where your grandmother went fishing.” Wendy Bob, whose son Gordie took part in the camp this year, notes that, “It was such a joy to watch him [Gordie] figure out how to use technology as a way of tracking his own steps.” Mitch’s contribution fits the CEDAR mandate perfectly as it not only demystifies a piece of equipment that many campers had never interacted with, it also empowers youth by sharing tools that can be used far beyond the two week period of the camp itself.

Also reaching beyond the camp itself, David at the UBC farm gave campers a tour of the grounds and plants, as well as, a lesson on traditional medicinal herbs. He showed a few examples of Indigenous medicines such as echinacea and squirrel’s tail (yarrow) and demonstrated how campers could boost their immune systems by consuming the same teas and concoctions that people on this continent have been using for thousands of years.

While CEDAR integrates traditional knowledge into its curriculum, it also focuses on giving campers access to all kinds of exciting programs on campus. As an example, John from Engineering Physics gave a tour of the robotics department. He showed a video in which UBC students entered rescue robots they had constructed into a competition. Afterwards, he gave a demonstration of the same robots. He then showed a prototype test model robot that will one day be sent to the moon. Campers were thrilled. “My son loves building things with Lego and the robotics lesson made it really clear to him that he could go into engineering,” says Marsha Parnell, one of the parents who watched her son blossom over the two week period from being a little shy and reserved to being an engineering enthusiast.

Math Mania with Melania Alvarez from the Mathematics Department is another example of how CEDAR aims to break down obstacles to learning. “Many kids think math can’t be fun,” Alvarez says, “but I beg to differ.” Her hands-on activities create an environment where learning takes place in such a way that it doesn’t even feel like formal learning. Many of the campers played games involving mathematical probability and exclaimed things like “That’s math?” in disbelief. Showing kids how math can be fun clearly delights Melania Alvarez who also runs her own youth-oriented math camp during the summer.

Other 2009 CEDAR Program highlights included a very popular trip to Science World and presentations from CEDAR friends at Let’s Talk Science, GeeringUp! and the Pesk’a Shad Valley Program. Jocelyn Robinson from the Education department’s CCFI program also came and gave a lesson on how to create art by recycling and reusing food items that might otherwise end up in the garbage. Campers applied the knowledge and the inspiration they gained from Robinson’s artistic encouragement to create digital comic books. Bryce Smiley, CEDAR Program Coordinator for 2009, also gave a presentation on how to use PowerPoint. This year, CEDAR successfully launched the CEDAR Leadership Program for youth who have graduated from the camp but who are now too old to participate as campers. Next year, the camp hopes to bring back a handful of youth leaders to lend their skills and strengths to younger learners.

Activities in the CEDAR Explorers Club will also take place on a monthly basis throughout the school year and will focus on maintaining regular contact with CEDAR summer campers through various activities. As Tim Michel addressed this year’s camp graduates, it was clear that he is looking forward to watching CEDAR further develop and expand in bold new ways in the years to come.

For more information about the CEDAR Summer Camp Program, please visit the program website at http://www. cedar.ubc.ca/.

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