The Riverwood Conservancy’s LEADS (Leadership in Environmental Achievements through Diversity and Skills) program takes secondary students outdoors to learn about local habitats, conduct field research, gain leadership skills, and form foundations for careers in science and environmental conservation.
LEADS programs are suitable for science, biology, geography, and math courses, and specialized Retreat in Nature programs are offered for religion courses. Our programs encourage students to celebrate the benefits of spending time outdoors for learning, physical fitness, and mental wellness, all while respecting Indigenous peoples’ ways of knowing the land.
In Riverwood’s living laboratory, students gain a greater understanding of nature and the environment by conducting field research, all while building the technical and leadership skills needed to prepare them for careers in science or geography. LEADS programs offer environmental education on a range of topics, and both full- and half-day programs are available.
Students visit aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems at Riverwood to learn about and measure the impacts of humans on environmental sustainability. Data collection includes air and water temperature, soil and water pH, total dissolved solids, and more. Students see plants and animals in the context of food chains and webs, and make connections to the accumulation of pollutants in water and soil.
Students hike through Riverwood to see geological evidence of natural climate change, including fossils on the banks of the Credit River. Anthropogenic climate change is assessed by measuring trees as carbon sinks in a forest quadrat using clinometers and iPads. Forest-based carbon sources are discussed including fire and mass tree mortality following the movement of invasive insects in Ontario. Students assess tree cookies, practice core sampling and analysis, use binoculars to identify birds, and learn how distribution patterns are changing in response to climate change.
Students focus the skills of bird identification including morphology, behavior, and habitat. Participants learn to use binoculars, field guides, and birding apps to ID birds. Data collected from each class is submitted to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one of the largest citizen science databases in the world.
Students learn plant identification skills using field guides, dichotomous keys and hand lenses. Students will see healthy moss, ferns, flowering plants, shrubs, and trees. A focus on the limiting factors and ecosystem services of sample plants are emphasized. A test using live samples allows students to qualify for a certificate useful for Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) programs.
Students learn field sampling skills with terrestrial quadrats or aquatic kick sweep sampling. Choose from forest quadrat survey, herbaceous plant quadrat study with invasive garlic mustard, or aquatic macroinvertebrate population survey. Many classes choose to book a morning population dynamics program followed by an afternoon half day biodiversity focused hike or stewardship program.
Students use four types of maps along with handheld Garmin global positioning system (GPS) devices to set and navigate to waypoints, measure distances, and calculate areas. Students put their wayfinding skills to the test in a team geocaching challenge focused on Indigenous knowledge developed under guidance from Elder Cat Criger, Indigenous Advisor at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Students can submit completed worksheets to earn a certificate from this program.
Students learn how to assess the water quality of ponds, streams, and rivers by chemically, physically, and biologically analyzing water samples. Participants learn to use water probes, D-nets to collect benthic macroinvertebrates, GPS devices, and more. Students develop a data-driven understanding of human impact on the Credit River in Mississauga.
This program focuses on Indigenous ways of connecting and respectfully interacting with the land; how science can support Indigenous peoples and knowledge systems; building a relationship with the Credit River; and learning how to protect this vital resource for our future. Students experience teaching circles, guided land connection activities, and scientific water monitoring. The program is delivered by Indigenous (Métis) teacher Kyl Morrison with support for scientific perspectives from the LEADS instructor.
Math teachers partner with Riverwood staff in delivering this program. Students work in small groups to complete three outdoor activities to practice the application of trigonometric ratios, and optionally Sine Law. Students visit gardens, woodlands, shallow creeks, and trails alongside the Credit River. This program provides an excellent opportunity for teachers to review trigonometry concepts before a test or exam. An optional activity focused on parabolas is also available.
For Catholic Schools: This program is co-delivered by TRC staff and the school Chaplain. The LEADS instructor delivers activities based on nature literacy (bedrock, water, plants, and animals), promotion of physical wellness (hiking); fostering environmental responsibility through active conservation work; and connecting students to future action through volunteering and educational pathways. The Chaplain interweaves themes of social wellness (peer connections) and spiritual development (finding inspiration in the natural world).
For Public or Private Schools: For Healthy Active Living Education Courses, emphasis will be on the multiple benefits of outdoor fitness including hiking and volunteering.
Students receive a basic introduction to GPS navigation and map reading. Then in teams, they work to locate a set of program-specific geocaches. Choose from an Indigenous focus with the four directions and Thanksgiving Address, or on Ecology.
Encourage your students to get outdoors after the field trip for their physical and mental wellness. This fun hike will focus on adventure and hiking safety.
Students learn about how to volunteer as a guardian of Riverwood’s habitats. Choose activities including data collection for invasive plant populations, plant monitoring data collection, or removing invasive plant species. All equipment needed for conservation activities will be provided.
Financial support from the Suncor Energy Foundation and NSERC PromoScience help bring more students to Riverwood to engage in LEADS programs – 100% of the $7.00 per student fee will be waived, and up to $125.00 of class transportation costs will be reimbursed to your school. Supply teacher costs are often the only expense to schools.