The father of an environmental school student has made a two-hour documentary about the unique choice school in Maple Ridge.
Found in the Forest was shown to the public for the first time on April 2 at The ACT, for an invitation-only audience that was largely made up of local educators.
Craig Cerhit is a filmmaker and television producer by trade, and his seven-year-old son Nate attends the school. He followed classes into the wild places surrounding Maple Ridge, and says capturing images of the kids in all that natural beauty was simply a way to scratch his creative itch in the early days of the project.
Then it evolved into a documentary that looked closely at this unique offering from the public education system.
“It’s my investigation of the school – the common questions, like, ‘What do they do when it rains?’”
The Environmental School, which opened in 2011, sees children do their schooling outdoors. They don’t have a classroom, they have a yurt – a portable tent-style room, for when they need it.
Cerhit admits he was skeptical at first.
“I had my reservations about it in the beginning,” he said. “This is so far outside the box – how can this work?”
“I was converted pretty fast, once I met the principal and the teacher.”
He followed classes, or clans, as they are called in the Environmental School, over a period of two and a half years.
Cerhit’s documentary explores how children learn, and asks whether teaching students in rows of desks, as tried and true as it appears, is the best way. Is the traditional school, what he calls “the beige building up the street,” best, when current education pedagogy calls for more place-based and play-based learning.
“Do we need more choice is education,” he asks. “The film is for anyone who’s interested in education.”
Cerhit’s knows it works for his son.
“Nate is a very active boy. I would have a hard time imagining him sitting at a desk. Being outside all day really suits his style.
“Rain or shine, he loves it.”
Found in the Forest has professional polish, because Cerhit has worked in television for many years, for CBC, Chum Television in Toronto and others, and has produced hundreds of hours of video.
Free from television’s time constraints, he indulged himself with the time spent on the documentary, which runs just under two hours.
“It was very freeing.”
“Found In The Forest is an important contribution to the critical discussion of what an education is, how it is delivered, and what that means for our children and society,” says his introduction.
It is also chock full of local scenery.
“When you’re shooting in parks in B.C. all day, the natural beauty is amazing,” he said.