Stampede 365: OH Ranch provides Calgary students with hands-on learning environment

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Stampede 365: Thinking outside the box – or classroom – education
WATCH: The OH Ranch educational program provided by the Calgary Stampede Foundation offers students a unique, hands-on learning experience at one of Alberta's oldest working ranches. In part two of our Stampede 365 series, Global News' community reporter Deb Matejicka takes a look at what makes the learning experience at this historical ranch so special and effective – Oct 29, 2018

Over the next two weeks, Global Calgary will be featuring several different initiatives with which the Calgary Stampede is involved year-round in a series called Stampede 365. This is part two in the four-part series. To read part one, click here.

There’s something to be said for taking kids out of their traditional learning environment and into the great outdoors.

“I like it way better than staying inside the school because it’s so nice and fresh, and it smells so good,” said Karambir Sandhu, a Grade 5 student at Peter Lougheed School.

Sandhu’s class recently spent the day at the OH Ranch just west of Longview, a little more than an hour away from their middle school in northeast Calgary.

For Sandhu’s teacher, Samia Nanji, there’s more to it than just the chance to spend a sunny day in a picturesque setting. She says she signed her class up for the educational program at OH Ranch because of the unique learning experiences it provides.

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“Out here, the kids are hands-on. Everything is — you can touch it, you can see it, you can hear it, you can feel it,” said Nanji.

One of Alberta’s oldest working ranches, the 130-year-old OH Ranch was granted heritage rangeland designation in 2008.  Four years later, the ranch was gifted to the Calgary Stampede Foundation.

Since then, the 8,000-acre parcel of land has been managed by the Stampede, which is committed to preserving its western heritage, protecting and enhancing its natural environment and engaging “rural and urban communities with meaningful experiences,” according to the ranch’s website.

This includes an educational program offered to schools in Calgary and the surrounding area.

“Each class that comes out has their own set of curriculum they’re working on, their own unique projects, and we’re trying to support that learning going on in each of those classes,” said Aaron Park, manager of youth education programs at the Calgary Stampede Foundation.

“What they are able to get a sense of is really that actual, authentic learning. It’s different than reading about it in a textbook.”

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Teachers like Nanji agree.

“The history of this ranch is something that we prepped for and looked at before we came out here… they did get an idea of it, and you can see now there’s real-life application to it. It’s like a museum out in nature,” said Nanji. “There’s a whole ecosystem out here of environment and animals and co-dependency and inter-dependency… right in the heart of the foothills — social studies, science, everything all connected.”

Humanities, geography and even weather can be added to that list as well.

“I found out what a ranch is today because I didn’t know before, and it means like when there’s animals that they take care of… like horses and cattle,” explained Sandhu after the visit.

Her classmate, Yuvraj Hayer, was most interested in the weather patterns he learned about.

“The people who first made this (ranch) picked this land because there’s hills so it blocks the cold wind,” Hayer explained.

Beyond traditional subjects, the program strives to enhance students’ understanding of their impact on the world around them.

“They also get to talk about preservation and stewardship through the lens of the ranch and through the lens of the ranch managers, who are stewards of the land here,” said Park. “We’re building community through education.”

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The OH Ranch education program is just one of several initiatives, including performance and agricultural programs, offered by the Stampede Foundation throughout the year as part of its commitment to providing youth with innovative learning experiences.

“In total, we see around 50,000 students a year across all our education components,” said Park.

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