MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — This week’s Excellent Educator teaches science at John Glenn Middle School in Maplewood, but he’s most known for his lessons outside the classroom.
Most of Travis Stewart’s students had never touch a kayak before joining his afterschool club. But he equips them with more than just a kayak and a paddle. Stewart gives them tools they need to get through the hard times.
Stewart’s favorite students to teach are the 6th graders right in front of him.
“It’s a tough age to teach but it’s also a tough age to be,” he said. “This is a point at which you have a lot of pivots in your life and a lot of changes, and if I can be there to help make some of those changes in a positive direction that’s what I like to do.”
For Stewart, teaching doesn’t just happen inside the walls of a classroom.
“I think some of the biggest impacts you can have with kids are outside the classroom because there is a lot of stigma that happens with students; you know me being a teacher, you being a student in a seat.”
The Willow River native has taken his students bow hunting, fishing, camping and even whitewater kayaking.
“The outdoors is where I escaped when I was young man when I was having tough times, and so I use that because that’s the only way I know how to teach kids to get through it,” he said.
Founder of the John Glenn Middle School Kayak Club, Stewart has taken students on kayaking trips to northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and even to Missouri.
“The greatest experiences aren’t during those activities but around the campfire when we debrief after, and when I’m teaching them how to cook over a campfire and tenting it out when it’s 20 degrees at night,” Stewart said.
Stewart is not only giving them experiences they might not have had before, but also lessons in confidence.
“They’re not sure if they can do it. But once they overcome some of those risks, overcome some of those things, they see that life is full of challenges that a lot of times you shy away from and I try to teach them that you shouldn’t,” he said.
Stewart is an ACA-certified whitewater canoe and kayak instructor with 25 years of experience. He starts them out slow in a pool and teaches them how to roll. Then they move onto to the outdoors, easier water, then the white water.
He said this experience helps to develop confidence, resilience and decision making skills so they can be more successful in school and life.
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