In 2014, toward the end of his Grade 9 year, Sasha Ruban’s academic prospects in the Burnaby school district did not look promising.
With only about a month left in the year, he had attended only about 20 days of school.
At the time, he said he’d gotten more out of using and dealing drugs than school.
“Truth be told, I was pretty interested in school,” he said. “It’s just the fact that I couldn’t get help, and I didn’t understand the concepts, so I thought I might as well do something else somewhere where I can actually understand something or benefit from it.”
But things couldn’t go on that way, and Ruban was threatened with expulsion from Burnaby South Secondary, he said.
He was slated to start anew at the district’s storefront program at the Canada Way Learning Centre when he heard about Take a Hike, an adventure-based alternate education program for at-risk high school students.
Since 2014, the Take a Hike Foundation has partnered with the school district on the local program, and Ruban was one of its first students.
He graduated from Take a Hike in 2017 and now works in the film industry.
Ruban said he had had his doubts about Take a Hike at first – and so had his mom, an engineer who had moved from Estonia to give her only son a better life in Canada.
“At first, she had thoughts of, like, ‘Oh, this is an alternate school. What is my kid going to do in life? This isn’t going to get him anywhere.’”
But both came on board quickly.
“My first adventure kind of sealed the deal for me,” Ruban said.
The class went on a kayaking trip in the Gulf Islands.
“It was awesome because we were camping,” Ruban said. “We were off the grid; there were no phones; there was no social media, there were no tendencies to go out and do something stupid. You’re in your zone; you're in nature; you’re teaching yourself how to look after yourself and others.”
Back in the classroom, the small class size (the program has a maximum capacity of 22 students) helped Ruban get back on track academically too, and his grades shot up, he said
“She proved to me that anything’s possible if you have that student-teacher relationship,” Ruban said of Dallas Plensky, the program's teacher at the time.
The Take a Hike partnership sees the school district supply a full-time teacher and classroom space, while the Take a Hike Foundation funds a full-time therapist, a part-time adventure-based learning specialist, transportation, administrative support, adventure gear and meals (on school days and on trips).
Since its inception, 154 students have attended the Burnaby program and 50 have graduated from it. Last year, 18 students were registered.
Students go on three trips a year. So far, they’ve hiked on the west coast of Vancouver Island, paddled in the Gulf Islands and snow-shoed in Manning Park.
Take a Hike, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, puts about $260,000 into the Burnaby program every year.
Ruban said the donors who support it should know they’re making a difference.
“Their money, whether it’s $10 or $100,000, it’s helping someone have a future,” he said.
For more information about Take a Hike, which also runs programs in Vancouver, Delta, Nanaimo, Cowichan, Saanich and the West Kootenays, visit www.takeahikefoundation.org.