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OUR HOMETOWN: Williams Lake teacher loves the outdoors for herself and her students

Frances McCoubrey brings her love for the environment into the classroom and takes her students outdoors

Frances McCoubrey speaks reluctantly about herself, but it is clear within moments, she has a love for biology and the natural world, and combines that with a passion for education.

Born and raised in Williams Lake, she said she remembers very little of elementary school, but one thing she clearly recalls was the first time the outdoors were a part of school.

“My dad was my first teacher who took me outside for teaching,” said McCoubrey, describing the trip to Borland Creek and the soil lesson. “I totally remember that.”

She grew up on a hobby farm participating in 4-H and spending time outside, a childhood which gave her deep roots in the Cariboo and an appreciation for what it can produce.

“I’m glad that we have people in Williams Lake that own the land here and make food off of it, I think that’s important,” explains the avid gardener.

“I really value having locally produced food.”

Read more: OUR HOMETOWN: Living life to the fullest

Now a Grade 7 teacher at Lake City Secondary - Columneetza campus, McCoubrey had initially thought her love for the natural environment and outdoors would lead her down the path to becoming a landscape architect.

However, after completing a couple of years of fine arts and then going on to an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science, she completed a teaching degree in 2010 at the University of British Columbia.

But she began her career as an outdoor educator, not a classroom teacher.

She spent time working for Parks Canada, BC Parks and Scout Island as a naturalist and outdoor educator.

McCoubrey said she likes how being outdoors can give students opportunities to get away from many social pressures and build relationships with each other.

Students can show different aspects of themselves and other kids are more able to appreciate those things.

But she began to worry about her job’s long-term security while Stephen Harper’s government was making cuts to environmental and parks programs and preventing them from teaching about climate change.

After a three-day “ecosystem immersion” program to help participants understand how humans are a part of an interconnected ecosystem network, she began to better appreciate the connections students and teachers make over longer periods.

So she moved into the classroom and returned to Williams Lake, but maintained her focus on outdoor education, and tries to integrate it into every subject in the curriculum.

She said she has seen the outdoors help students come out of their shells in ways they don’t in the classroom.

After having lived away for school and work, she now greatly appreciates being able to both walk to work and mountain bike from her house in town.

“I love that there are opportunities in our community to recreate without having to get into your vehicle,” explains McCoubrey.

Read more: OUR HOMETOWN: A passion for advocacy

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