Robert Legace – Creator and Lead Teacher of the GENESIS Program

Robert Legace - Creator and Lead Teacher of the GENESIS Program
About Robert Legace

Robert (@BobLegace) is the father of four wonderful teenage and adult children. He is married to the most patient woman in the world- Debra; together they strive to be loving supportive parents.  He is an avid cyclist and woodworker.  Robert spends his free time in the Parry Sound region, cycling, hiking and canoeing. 

Currently, he is in his twenty-fifth year in education.  As the lead teacher of the GENESIS environmental education program, Robert’s goal is to foster a relationship between creation and his students.   His personal motto is “There is no excuse for hard work”- Thomas Alva Edison.  Any day that Robert is outside is a good day. 

Connect with Robert: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

The GENESIS Program Website

Laudato si’ Book by Pope Francis

Sacred Heart high school

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Happy new year. I hope you, your friends and family had an awesome holiday break, and you’re excited to get back doing the work that you love with the people that you care about. Today’s special guest on the podcast is Robert Lagace. Robert is a father of four wonderful teenage and adult children. He is married to the most patient woman in the world, Debra and together, they strive to be loving supporting parents. Robert also happens to be an avid cyclist and woodworker and spends his free time in the Perry sound region, cycling, hiking, and canoeing. Currently, Robert is in his 25th year in education. Hi Is the lead teacher of the Genesis environmental education program, which you’ll hear about on the podcast. His goal is to foster a relationship between creation and his students. Robert’s personal motto is there is no excuse for hard work and he quotes that Thomas Alva Edison. Any day that he is outside is a good day. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Robert and I will see you on the other side, Bob, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the work you do in education?

Robert Legace (02:25):
Well, thanks Sam. I appreciate the invite. I’m a high school teacher in the Bruce-Grey Catholic District school board. I teach grade 10 history some cooperative education and the focus of most of my work over the last few years has been the Genesis program. I researched and wrote a new program dealing with for credit outdoor education. And it’s a pursuits derived program that deals with environmental stewardship character development students and environmental awareness.

Sam Demma (02:56):
Can you tell me more about the desire and inspiration to create this program and where it stems from?

Robert Legace (03:03):
Well, the the Genesis program kind of comes from a lot of different areas in my own life. I I was one of those students that when I grew up, I spent an awful lot of time in a classroom being somewhat disconnected, you know, I, I enjoyed I enjoyed school, but I used to really yearn to go outside, to be outside to be engaged with activities outside the actual regular classroom. I found that the regular confines of a classroom kind of challenging. And to that end, when I when I went to the elementary system as a teacher, firstly I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I could develop the curriculum in ways that would gauge students like myself. So in novel studies, for example we would go outside and, and do some hands on activities history.

Robert Legace (03:47):
We would go and dig trenches as part of understanding world war I. So when I came to the high school and I was asked to take on the the current outdoor education program that they had I made one stipulation and I said, you know, I’d be interested in taking on the program, but I really want to change the program, make it look more indicative of a program that is fully engaged with the outdoors see the classroom really as a storage space and see the outdoors as the actual classroom itself. So from there I developed a single credit program E rewrote the curriculum, and then I decided I wanted to go a little more heavily into the outdoor red. So I started to research across the country, different programs to deal with four credit outcomes. So that means that students would come to me in the beginning of the semester. And they would have me as their teacher for the entire day, rather than just one period gives awful a lot more flexibility when it comes to field trips gives you a lot more flexibility as far as timelines in the, in the day when you’re trying to teach curriculum.

Sam Demma (04:51):
That’s amazing. And when did the program start and what does it look like today? Has it evolved, changed? Tell me more about the progression.

Robert Legace (04:59):
Yeah, so the program started about five or six years ago. I actually started teaching out outdoor red, the single credit about 12 years ago. And then about six or seven years into that process, I began researching for the four credit. And what I really, really quickly realized is that to make this jump into a four credit reality it was going to require a lot more training on my, on my part a lot more as far as spending with budgets and organizing budgets and also getting my board comfortable with the level of engagement that I was looking for as far as student engagement as, and, and as well as board engagement. So I began that process slowly and built up you know, I, I think a good reputation with the board as far as safe doing things safely.

Robert Legace (05:43):
I took a lot of different courses a lot of qualifications to ensure that I was prepared for the challenges ahead. And then from there the program began earnestly with 18 students. We have a, we have a maximum of 18 just because the safety of of all concerned. We wanna make sure that we can provide a safe program and how it looks now in comparison, the beginning, it has evolved a certain amount. COVID has challenged it definitely as far as trying to get on and do field trips, but in comparison to the very first year that the program is in I’ve met the goal of being outside a lot more. We are out most of the day now, and we are mostly outside every day of the week. So yeah, it, it has definitely evolved over time. And what I’ve, what I’ve found is that it’s, it’s starting to meet a lot of those students needs that I was trying to originally calm the beginning.

Sam Demma (06:39):
And what, what is the importance of getting outside? Like, let’s talk to that for a second, for sure. Even other classes that could also leverage the outside space or teachers who are listening in wondering, you know, why is that so crucially important? I’m sure you have a nice, strong opinion on it.

Robert Legace (06:55):
Well, you know, in the, in the Genesis program when we came up with the term Genesis, we said, you know, what really is our goal? Why, why are we doing this? Because if you don’t know why you’re doing something, what’s the point. Yeah. And so we said to ourselves, well, the goal is to get students of a relationship with creation. That’s really what the goal is. And in a Catholic school system like ours, you know, we could refer to as environment, but really is creation. It’s a gift that’s given to us like, and what we found is that a lot of students didn’t have a relationship with creation. You know, in the Genesis program, one of the, one of the hallmarks of the program is, comes along. Pope Francis is teaching that the, the natural world or creation, isn’t something that we’re supposed to harness for our own profitability, but it’s something that’s a gift that we can utilize for All.

Robert Legace (07:40):
And, and to that end, getting students outside, what we find is when we’re teaching this, cuz that’s myself and another colleague, is that it allows the students to be much more centered much more focused. It allows for us to build relationship and really go after some of those areas that are really tough to teach in education. How do you teach resiliency? Do you teach within your students an understanding the respect for creation in the natural world? How do you teach within your students of resiliency to be able to take on challenges day to day in our, in our, in our everchanging world. And, and in this program, that’s one of the things that we ch we do with each one of the students is we challenge them to be their best. We challenge them to to engage with us as well as their peers in a cooperative and collaborative environment.

Robert Legace (08:23):
And then we challenge them with some of the big issues in our world that we’re confronted with today. And that is environmental degradation. And we ask them as to be innovators, how can we bring about this change? You know, it’s a, it’s a challenging curriculum. It’s a challenging program, but what comes out at the other end is a student that really has transform themselves. And they become much more resilient. They become innovators, they become centered on a perspective that the environment is there as a gift that they can utilize. And and, and to make their lives better and more fulfilled, but not necessarily use it for profitability all the time.

Sam Demma (08:58):
Tell me more about the transformation, like I’m sure as an educator, you have one of those folders on your desk with rainy, the, the rainy day folder, where you look through notes, students have written to you and you might be feeling down yourself. Sometimes you get to see the growth and transformation of a student. Other times it takes 15 years, and then they come back in the classroom, they tell you about it, but can you take us through maybe, you know, one student that sticks out to you and maybe it’s a serious transformation, so you can change their name, but sure. Yeah. Well, what, what they started with and then what they looked like after going through it.

Robert Legace (09:29):
Sure, sure. Yeah. And then that’s really the, the main reason why I brought both to Janice this program is that I’ve always felt it as an educator, whether it was when I was a grade seven, eight teacher or my early days in high school, I always felt that the starting of teaching has to be relationship and that’s working one on those students and getting to know who they are. And when I, when I wrote this program, you know, that was one of the core fundamental beliefs is allowing for relation develop in a really meaningful way. And I can speak to one student in particular and, and this young lady you know, she, she would tell you straight off when she took my single credit program that you know, the outdoor outdoors was not for her. She said, you know, I’m not really interested in mud.

Robert Legace (10:11):
I’m not interested in being out in the rain. And she was really interested in, in her technology. And you would also agree that that young individual in, in grade 10 in that single credit program was someone that struggled with resiliency and struggled with her mental health to a certain degree. And you know, she was struggling with some life. Her mom was sick at the time. I encouraged her to join the four credit program when she was done. And I remember her looking at me and saying, what part of me do you think would be good outside after what you just experienced in single credit? And I said, this is a program that would be good for you. This would be a good program for you to understand who you are to develop a sense of self. And so she took me up on that challenge and she took the program and I’ll never forget her mom saying to me early in the semester, she said, I don’t know what you said to convince her, but she said, she passed up a trip to go to Cuba with us to start your program.

Robert Legace (11:04):
She didn’t wanna fall behind. It said, that’s, that’s a great start. It’s a wonderful start. . And, and the mom was kinda perplexed as to, you know, why she would do this, but this young girl came to the program every day and every day she was challenged to go outside at her comfort zone. You know, she had to take on cross country skiing and do environmental projects with other students and work collaboratively. And in this type of program, what it allows for is the skills of individual skills of students to really be highlighted. So, or maybe she wasn’t the most bodily kinesthetic learner. Maybe she really struggled. She did struggle with some of those things like those core skills, cross country ski and cycling. She was really able to, to shine in some of her strengths. And that was the presentation side of skills when we had to make presentations to outside community groups.

Robert Legace (11:47):
And I think the moment for her where it all kind of came together was in Quebec. We were we were cycling and we were going up yet another very, very long hill on one of our, our daily journeys. We cycled between 60 to 70 kilometers a day in Quebec with all of our pans. In other words, our gear, our tents, our backpacks with us. And I cycled back beside her and I said, Katie, it’s okay to it’s okay to walk it’s it’s okay. Had to walk up this hill. That’s all right. And she had tears coming down her face and she said, I’m not doing that. And I said, okay, so I’ll ride beside you. If you wanna talk, we’ll talk. And she said, you know, her her dad’s good friend was dying. And he said to her, you know, whenever you face the struggle in life, just dig deeper and you can get through that believe in yourself.

Robert Legace (12:30):
And she said, I believe in myself, and I can get up to the top of this hill. And I said, good for you. I said, what do you need from me? She said, I need you to keep riding. I said, I can do that. So she wrote at the top of that hill, and I could tell, you know, there was a real change within her that she over that semester, she really got to know who she was. And she went off to college that following year, which she had never kind of planned for herself and was heading off to school. And it was interesting during her reading week, there was an knock on my classroom door and the next cohort of students were there. And she came in and she said, can I talk to the class and was kind of taken aback?

Robert Legace (13:03):
I said, certainly I really wasn’t sure what she was gonna say. And she started to tell ’em about her journey in the program. And she had some tears in her eyes and she said, you know, I’ve startled with mental health, an awful lot in high school. I struggled with my confidence. I struggled with, you know, knowing who I was and how I fit into the world. And she said, this program allowed for me to get to know myself to realize that I could do it. And she said, now when I’m off in school and I have a really bad day at college, or, you know, I feel like, I don’t know anybody. I say to myself, if I can get up that hill in Quebec, if I can do that overcome one of the biggest physical struggles I’ve ever had in my life I can get through today.

Robert Legace (13:37):
And so she was she was telling the students, you know, give it your wholehearted effort, move forward, believe in yourself, reach out to those who you can get help from and you’ll come up the other side stronger. So I, I walk away from that that experience with that student, realizing that if students are given the tool to achieve and to Excel, if students are given the opportunities to get outside that comfort zone to move away from technology, cuz she really needed to move away from her, from her phone at times they will Excel and and she did Excel. So I was really pleased to see that she was able to do that and, and I’ve kept in contact with her and she was doing very well. You and all the things that she’s doing now in her life,

Sam Demma (14:17):
What an amazing Testament to the strength of the program and the curriculum. How do you create that environment that enables a student to find themself? Like you’re saying?

Robert Legace (14:30):
I think that, I think the first thing that I try to cultivate within my classroom is a sincerity and honest. When I, when I start teaching with the students, I introduce myself. And I tell ’em a little bit about myself and maybe a bit of my, my own personal struggles in the educational system. And I speak about what the goals for this program are. And, and, and I tell them, there are lofty goals. We want you to become out the other end, a more resilient individual that knows yourself a little better. We want you obviously to learn some of this curriculum, but we want you to be stewards of the earth and that’s a really big expectation for them. And, and to that end when we do our various activities with the students, I try to follow within them, you know a relationship that’s based on integrity and honesty.

Robert Legace (15:16):
And, and I tell them straight up that there are going to be days where you’re not going to be having fun in here. I know that you’re gonna find this a bit of a struggle and, and share those struggles with us, cuz we’re all feeling that way at times. And I also tell them when I’m maybe not having the greatest day and how we can times get outside of ourselves and say, okay, this is the task at hand, let’s reenter, let’s refocus and utilizing the pursuits that we do within the program. So we hike, we cycle, we backpack, we cave re we repel when we do these various activities, it allows for us to build and to grow as an individual. You know, I tell them when I’m, when I’m repelling down the rock face, that I’m not really having a lot of fun right now, this, this is not my comfort zone, but I’m able to overcome this challenge.

Robert Legace (16:00):
And, and by doing that, I’m a stronger person when I come out the other end. And and I think they, they value that testimony that I’m able to provide them. And, and, you know, the same goes with my cohort teacher and any of volunteers that come along. The relationship that we foster with these students is one very much of a collaborator. One, one, a person that’s on the journey with them. And one, that’s not going to sugarcoat things necessarily for them. One that’s gonna allow them to succeed and maybe sometimes they’re not going to succeed, but is going to help them find a plan to move forward so that success can be on the horizon.

Sam Demma (16:35):
And when you started building this program how did you bring it to life? Because there’s another educator listening right now, who’s loving everything you’re saying and might be of the similar mindset of doing something similar. And they’re a school board maybe in a totally different country. What advice do you have for someone who want to undertake something similar to what you guys have built?

Robert Legace (16:55):
Well, the first thing I would say is you have to get a philosophy within yourself. As far as education is concerned, why are you teaching? And that would be the, that would be something that I had to address really early in my career. Why did I wanna go into teaching and work with young people? That’s the first thing, know what your vision is for myself, you know, it, it, it’s not about making money for myself, it’s, it’s, it’s very much about working with young people and trying to see the best within them because the only future that our earth really has is our young people, you know, to try and figure out different ways that we can look at the world and be sustainable. Secondly you need to really, before you can run, you need to start by getting yourself of qualified in all the areas, outdoor education is, is not an area to take lightly.

Robert Legace (17:40):
It’s a very serious area because safety is so very, very important. So you need to go out and get all those various qualifications that need to be done and, and being qualified doesn’t mean that you just go out camping with your family on weekends. That’s not enough. You have to really, really get those qualifications and understand the the enormity of what you’re doing. You know, when I take students out into the back country canoeing, that’s an enormous amount of responsibility to ensure the safety of that group. And I need to ensure that I not only know that group, but I know my students, I know my equipment in and I know myself when I’m going out there to make sure that, you know, we’re not taking any risks. The same goes with the cycling or the hiking or the rock climbing and caving.

Robert Legace (18:19):
So getting in those qualifications are really key. And then thirdly, start off slowly, don’t go too quickly. We did the single credit program approach for about six year. And I had a superintendent that once said to me, he said, you know, always keep in the back of your mind, you’re one accident away from losing everything. And at first I was kind of taken aback by that comment and I thought about it and I thought, you know what, he’s right. You know, nobody wants to have an accident. No, nobody wants a student to be hurt. But if you, we always make every decision with the, with the mindset that, you know, we are, are really one accident away from losing all the work that you’ve done or, or possibly losing life or possibly an accident with a student. You know, it really makes you slow those decisions down and say, okay, what do I need step by step by step.

Robert Legace (19:03):
So start off small, start with field trips, start with doing those properly and doing those well. And then after you’ve done a few field trips then, and start to take a look at, okay, how’s my curriculum. How can I evolve it from there to involve more of the outdoors, get those training approved requisite skills. And what you’ll find is that the doors will start to open. Then the what I found in my case with the administration started open those doors and say, okay, you’re proven time and time and time again that you do things safely. Okay. We’re open more and more of this.

Sam Demma (19:32):
That’s awesome. And you alluded to this idea that you shared with your students, the, the, your own challenges that you had growing up with education mm-hmm, what were some of those challenges? And if you could change certain things about education today, what would, what would that be?

Robert Legace (19:47):
Well, you know, I, I can remember I, I’m a very, very lucky in, I, I came from a, a loving home with a mom and a dad who were both educators themselves who had unbelievable amounts of patience with with myself and my brother, my brothers and sister. And, you know, I can remember as a young person, I was really struggling with reading and you know, I felt lost in a classroom of over 30 students. I wasn’t, you know, I didn’t enjoy school and school didn’t seem for me and I can remember my mom. She was a stay at home moment at the time. She came into the school and she took me outta the class every day and worked with my reading. And within about a six month period, when I was tested, I was a grade level ahead.

Robert Legace (20:28):
So, you know, it reinforced within me that when you time with individuals individuals can be moved ahead rather quickly. You know, the limitations don’t have to be what holds them back. When I went off into the high school system, I felt really disconnected. I can still remember my grade nine year. I was a, a student who could handle the academic courses and do those things, but I felt so disconnected from the school environment. I, I can still remember seeing my report, my report card at the first semester. And I had missed 20 days of school. I thought to myself, yeah, I’ve been sick sometimes, but why have I missed so much the school then, as soon as about basketball season started, I never missed a day for the rest of my high school time. Well, it’s because I didn’t have a sense of community and that stayed with me, that feeling of community.

Robert Legace (21:17):
It really stayed with me when I went off to university and especially teachers college. When I was asked by one of my professors to write my philosophy education that sent of community kind of re revealed itself to me again. And I, and I thought to myself, you know, it’s all one good to be an athlete at about, you know, 10 to 12% of our schools. We have students who are engaged in athletics and that’s wonderful. They get that sense of community through their teams. But what about the rest of the students, if they’re not involved in student council, if they’re not involved, it’s maybe a mission trip as, as some students are in our school, what do they have to connect with? How do they develop that sense of community? And so when I was writing the Genesis program, that’s one of the hallmarks of the program is developing a community within that classroom.

Robert Legace (22:01):
And, and that’s really that’s really been realized by the students. I, I know, I know my own daughter went through the program early on and she was home just this past weekend. We celebrated Thanksgiving late with her and she still goes back and forth with the students that she was in the program with. Now, these aren’t students that she went to elementary school with, or all the way through high school with these aren’t students, that she played sports with these aren’t students that went off to university with her, but she’s still connecting with the students in her class from her Genesis year, because they had such a wonderful relationship where they supported one another. And if that’s one thing that students will walk away with in the program, I’d be very pleased with. And that’s a sense of community where everybody feels valued.

Robert Legace (22:40):
Everybody feels loved and respected. And you know, so we do have a variety of student learners there. We’ve got the academics in the room. We’ve got those students who be considered in the Ontario system as as applied learners who may be heading to the world of work or maybe to trades. And, you know, we have students that are really struggle with their learn and, and what the academics and, and all these various students, the, the applied and, and some of the other students really realize very quickly is that we can all honor one another by respecting the wonderful God-given talents that they have. And that’s really what our community is all about. Our larger community is where we really value one another. Our community can only really prosper when we value each other’s contribution.

Sam Demma (23:22):
That’s amazing. I think a like, feeling like you’re a part of something, a community, a team, a club, all those things, especially when you’re going through high school and especially now, you know, through COVID when learning was virtual and a lot of those things weren’t even possible having some form of community was so important. If you could, if you could travel back in time, Bob, and speak to your younger self in your first year of teaching, knowing what you know now with the experience you have, what advice would you give your younger self or for any educators who might be in their initial years of education?

Robert Legace (23:55):
Don’t you know, I think back to my, my early years and curriculum was being pushed so very, very heavily. And and I can remember that first class ask for sure. And and I would say young educators, you know, the curriculum is important. There’s no question, but before the curriculum and the learning can take place, relationship, relationship has to take place. And we have to develop that relationship. You know kids come to our classrooms with the expectation that they’re going to learn. They know that, but we need to go a step further and we need to make sure that students feel valued. We need to make sure that students feel loved because some of the homes they come from quite honestly that is not a hallmark of the relationship they may have with their parents and as educators, if, if we can demonstrate to our students that, that value of love that we, we, we love our students that we want to be there for them.

Robert Legace (24:46):
We wanna support them. We can go an awful long way to making our world a better place and giving these students a real chance at having a fulfilling lifestyle, one where we demonstrate to each other and other community members, a sense of compassion, a sense of self worth a sense that we are all important. Just some of us are important, but all of us are important in this journey. We call life. So, yeah, spend, spend some time getting to know your students, spend some spend some quality time with your students, and then everything that you do with in your classroom in those first few years, make sure that relationship isn’t forgotten.

Sam Demma (25:20):
Hmm. Love that this has been a really insightful interview, and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of educators thinking about how they can add aspects of our natural world and creation and the environment into their lessons. Hopefully. you’ve inspired that in them today, if there is an educator who is inspired by it and wants to learn more, what would be the place you should direct them to, or, you know, where can they reach out to you to get in touch if they wanted to chat?

Robert Legace (25:43):
They’re more than welcome to reach out to me through the board, email: Bob_Legace@bgcdsb.org. If they wanna take a look at what we’ve done as far as our program is concerned, just go to Sacred Heart high school. Under students take a look at under guidance education. We have the Genesis program tab, and you can kind of take a look at our program and some of the student testimonials of what we’ve done. And I, encourage them be courageous, go out there and try different things get your qualifications. And you’ll find that the world is full of possibilities and all you need to do is go out there and grasp ahold them.

Sam Demma (26:20):
Love that, Bob. Thanks again. Keep up the great work and

Robert Legace (26:23):
We’ll talk to, it’s a pleasure. Thanks very much.

Sam Demma (26:25):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the high-performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high-performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those as educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

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