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Desire to inspire

Climbing expert speaking to school-aged students since 2005

Campus and Community

By Ryan Howell

Dr. TA Loeffler is a world-renowned educator and adventurer, but also an in-demand guest speaker — and she takes pride in passing her knowledge and experiences on to others.

A group of schoolchildren sit in front of a projection screen with a person on it.
Dr. TA Loeffler speaks to a group of students at Octagon Pond Elementary.
Photo: Submitted

In particular, the next generation.

Dr. Loeffler, a professor of outdoor education and recreation with Memorial’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, has been speaking in schools across Newfoundland and Labrador since 2005 about the importance of physical activity and having big dreams. By her estimation, she speaks at an average of 15 schools a year.

During that time, she has spoken to more than 100,000 students. Her approach has shifted slightly over the past decade to speak mostly with Grade 4 students, as the social studies curriculum is based on exploring — an area that Dr. Loeffler can provide great expertise in, evident from being named one of Canada’s 90 Greatest Explorers by Canadian Geographic.

In fact, the presentation is often titled “We Are All Explorers” and includes pictures and stories from exploring all seven continents, highlighting everything from erupting volcanoes to Labrador rivers.

A screenshot of a slide from Dr. Loeffler's presentation. The word canoe is written in white over a green background and there is a canoe in the water. To the right is an image of the Newfoundland and Labrador map.
A slide from Dr. Loeffler’s presentation about how rivers were often used for exploration by Indigenous Peoples.
Photo: Submitted

Finding your own Everest

“I talk about how we can all be explorers by nurturing our curiosity and how we often start by exploring places near to us — whether that be our school yard or our neighborhood,” she explained. “I also talk about “finding your own Everest,” which means a way to move yourself while inspiring others to do the same. For some, it might literally be climbing a mountain, but it might also be in sports, the arts or just by being kind.”

COVID-19 wasn’t about to get in the way of the tradition continuing, so the talks adapted to the times and became virtual. They also became much larger.

“I’ve been speaking at Beachy Cove Elementary every year since 2006 for the most part and I was asked to do a Zoom presentation where other schools would be invited,” she said. “We were pretty excited in the fall of 2020 when 90 different classes attended.”

Word travelled around the school system that the presentations were always a hit with students, but not even Dr. Loeffler could have predicted the turnout for the presentation on Sept. 24.

“I could see Ms. Fillier’s Grade 4 class at Beachy Cove cheering, and I found out they were cheering every time a new class joined the presentation,” she said with a laugh. “In the end, there was lots to cheer about as 192 classrooms across the province joined. A conservative estimate is 4,000 Grade 4s attended that presentation.”

While the purpose of the presentations is to tie the Grade 4 curriculum to real-life examples, Dr. Loeffler comes away with more knowledge and inspiration each time.

‘Insatiable curiosity’

“I see the world through their eyes at these presentations and I’m always inspired by their insatiable curiosity and eagerness to learn,” she explained. “When question time comes, almost every child is waving their hand to learn more.”

The curious children ask everything from what animals she sees on her excursions and what it feels like to be above the clouds to missing home and being scared.

“Another guaranteed question I get is, What does TA stand for?’” she said. “I tell them Totally Awesome.”

A photo of a worksheet completed by a student after Dr. Loeffler's presentation. There are four questions on the sheet.
A worksheet completed by a young student after Dr. Loeffler’s presentation.
Photo: Submitted

When asked about the most rewarding aspect of doing these presentations, Dr. Loeffler says it’s the followup conversations with teachers about how the class was fascinated by the presentation and continue to have many questions long after it’s ended.

She also has boxes full of handmade thank you cards from the students with paragraphs about what they learned, which she says she cherishes.

Commitment to communities

The work Dr. Loeffler is doing in the school community reflects an increasing presence in the community and expanding community-focused experiential learning opportunities, both of which are focused goals of Memorial’s commitment to communities in its new strategic plan, Transforming Our Horizons.

One thing is for certain – the students don’t forget Dr. Loeffler’s wisdom and inspiring messages.

“Earlier the fall, a clerk in a store came up to me and told me he remembered my talk and wanted me to know that he is gaining skills to attempt climbing Mount Everest, as well. That was really cool. I do a ton of community engagement and I truly hope it inspires.”

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