It was a crisp, cold, windy Thursday morning and there he was: 11-year-old Jamie Taylor, in his plaid jacket, Paw Patrol backpack, baseball cap and rubber boots . Ready for his first day at the Guelph Outdoor School.
Not a boy of many words, he stood attentive and eager for what the day has to offer with a soft smile, inquisitive mind and a warm personality.
When he saw a low bridge above the river, he pulled his pants up and walked in the water, When he saw a bug, he picked it up and let it crawl over his hands, For a lunch snack, he pulled out some seaweed from his backpack.
When asked what he was most grateful for during the fire circle that started the day, he said, ‘being able to fish.’
“I’m happy to be here,” said Taylor.
His journey toward the Guelph Outdoor School began a month ago when Guelph Police found him at the Speed River — shirtless, soaked, smiling and holding an enormous fish — after they were contacted because Taylor left his school at lunch to go fishing.
The story caught the attention of media throughout the province and also that of Chris Green, the director of the Guelph Outdoor School, who then extended a scholarship for the Thursday Foxes and Wolves program they offer, covering the cost so Taylor can foster his inner curiosity in nature — where he feels most comfortable.
“He’s honouring this biological developmental need to go give himself what his body needs to learn and to find joy,” said Green who created the school in an effort to promote an attribute-based curriculum where kids learn timeless skills such as a quiet mind, service to the community, caring, self sufficiency, cooperation, liveliness and the ability to make sense of things without adults telling them everything.
“There was no need to convince him that the outdoor school was a good option for him. He’s already self-advocating. Other young people know that something is not working but wouldn’t think to bust out of school or ask their parents that GOS exists.”
With a love for the water, Taylor said he was most excited when he found out there are massive catfish in the river and cannot wait to catch them.
“My dad taught me how to fish,” said Taylor started fishing when he was two.
“I’m really grateful to be here because my mom doesn’t have enough money. So I’m really grateful for that.”
GOS teacher Alex Savatti said he sees the children build a wealth of resilience and find what their edge is in the school.
“From the moment I met him, there was a very clear eagerness to soak up everything the outdoors has to offer,” said Savatti about Taylor.
Taylor’s mom, Katherine Edwards, said she was at the dentist with her other son when she received a call from Taylor’s school a month ago.
“I’m a single mom so they called me saying JT just left and 'we’re not sure what you would like to do' and I’m, like, okay I guess we’re calling the police but I know where he is. He’s down at the bridge,” said Edwards.
And that’s where she met the police officer handling the situation.
“Apparently he had left school so he doesn’t get into a fight with another kid. So he was really trying to escape a situation,” said Edwards.
“He tries to take his fishing pole to regular school every day.”
Edwards said the incident opened doors of support to put in place for Taylor in case he ever feels the need to escape.
“Regrettably, so many kids who come to outdoor school are already experiencing some kind of challenge with the classroom and so the GOS has taken on a bit of a reputation for being just for misfits,” said Green.
“We need that sensory integration, we need that care to explore and find our own limits and abilities in a multi-sensory way. It’s perfect for everyone, but sadly it only goes to ones who kind of cry out by bad behaviour or escaping.”
For the last seven years, programs in the GOS, which operate every day of the week, year-round, allowed parents to send a child one day a week between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for free.
And as the GOS organizers are seeing an increasing social need to provide the programs, they created a bursary fundraising campaign so local businesses and individuals can pitch in and recognize the importance of such programs.