"CHURCHILL: A NORTHERN EXPERIENCE"
This project was originated by Mark R. Weaver, science department chairman at Clay Middle School (formerly Clay Junior High School) located in Carmel, Indiana. For years, Mr. Weaver has traveled across the globe usually spending his summers in parts of Europe and during the school year, when not instructing, traveling the United States and has always been fascinated by bears. As a child he had a stuffed toy bear (and monkey) from the Smoky Mountains that traveled everywhere with him. Also, the Adventures of Paddington Bear by British author and friend Sir Michael Bond, along with tales from the entire Bond Family, lead the Weaver family on many of their own bear-influenced adventures. As for the POLAR BEARS, ever since he saw the National Geographic "Polar Bear Alert" on WFYI (a local PBS affiliate) there has been a strong desire to visit this town of Churchill, in northern Manitoba.
July of 1985 was Weaver's first visit to Churchill. He and his mother had taken a short vacation through the northern midwestern states and proceeded through western Ontario into Manitoba. From Winnipeg, they drove as far north as the road would allow, finally stopping in the town of Thompson. From there, they took an incredible journey on a train that moved very slowly across the taiga. Even in July, frost formed on the outside of the train cars which had to be scraped off with brooms by the conductors. The train stopped at the most unusual places along the way. None of them appeared to be what might be termed "regular stops." Eventually, they arrived in Churchill, to be greeted with temperatures of 32 F and snow! The ice on the bay was breaking up. Mark and Mom took a town tour, had a snack, and then reboarded the train. to return back south. Yes, they were there only a few hours! No, it wasn't that they didn't like Churchill....they loved the place....it was that they had bought a round trip ticket on the train, and the next train out wouldn't have been for another two days, and money was really low. During their brief stay, they found the townspeople to be very friendly and kind. Some folks even invited them into their homes to visit for awhile and to get warm. They toured the Fort Prince of Wales, saw the beluga white whales, visited The Arctic Trading Post souvenir and fur store, saw the polar bear jail, the then defunct rocket range, the high school, viewed the bay, and even visited "The Bay" (Hudson Bay store) that was originally set up as part of the Hudson Bay Trading Company. Even though the stay was short, it was impressive. As a matter of fact, in the summer of 1991, they both returned for another "single day" experience! But Mark still had on his mind the fact that they had not encountered any polar bears or experienced Churchill at the most renowned time of year, which is late autumn.
In the spring of 1995, Mark Weaver received the Indianapolis Power & Light Company (IPALCO) and the Community Leaders Allied for Superior Schools (CLASS) Golden Apple Award. IPALCO and CLASS presented Mark with a grant to use in any appropriate way he saw fit. Remembering one of his dreams, he approached the Superintendent of the Carmel Clay Schools with a most extraordinary idea. In late October, early November of 1995, Mark was granted a short leave of absence (as school is in session at this time of year) to visit Churchill and see the polar bears, visit the school, meet the people, and bring back information to share with his students and other interested people. Well, Mark met some incredible people in Churchill--both residents and visitors. A Parks Canada ranger, Rob Watson, befriended him and gave him guidance during his week and a half stay. Not only did Mark repeat the tour of before, but rented a truck to drive around the few miles of paved road that exist. He rode on a dogsled made for the road; taught an English class; visited several other classes, especially science in the Duke of Marlborough High School. He also toured the Eskimo Museum; ate at many of the local establishments (including the Lazy Bear Cafe, Gypsies, Northern Nights, the Health Centre, the school cafeteria, and the Royal Legion) . He followed children around town as they trick-or-treated on Halloween, while the polar bear patrols drove armed up and down the streets. Also enjoyed was a fine bed and breakfast stay at Don Gould's place. In the evenings, Weaver attended a Churchill Bears hockey game; watched the aurora borealis. Other days, he met a film crew from the ABC World of Discovery and took the large wheeled Tundra Buggies out onto the tundra to see polar bears! Not only were there bear, but caribou, arctic fox, and ptarmagin. And, of course, there was the Midwestern Helicopter flight out over part of the frozen bay to see more bears! It all was an incredible experience for him.
During the time there, Weaver filmed over 25 hours of videotape. It was not until the late spring of 1996 when he started editing the film and trying to do something educational with it, besides just show bits and pieces of the original. People were asking to hear about the experience. Finally, a video, produced entirely at Clay Junior High School, resulted, entitled "Churchill: A Northern Experience". This was circulated throughout the school, and there seemed to be a demand for it at other schools within the system, too. Some copies were made to be housed in the community Public Library and various school libraries within the corporation. Mark has been asked to speak about his adventures countless times in the surrounding areas. It seems that he now has a trademark of the "polar bear" as students, staff and friends give him polar bear related items! He is not an expert in this field of arctic study, but does continue to learn. The desire to return and learn and see more of the bears and of Churchill still exists.
In the fall of 1997, Mark Weaver was recognized by the Milken Family Foundation (of California) and the Indiana Department of Education as one of the top educators in the United States. With this award recognition came lots of hands-on training in technology and other opportunities. Many people, nationally, state-wide, and locally have worked with Mark. In the early summer of 1998, Mark was given a $25,000 grant from the Milken Family Foundation to use in any way that he chose. The avenue that he did choose was to immediately put it back into education--not only his own, but his students, and actually, anyone interested in participating in this unique (and at the time "live") website, by returning to Churchill in fall 1998. Not only did he do his own observing and filming, but literally thousands of people had the potential to go right along via this Internet/Web-oriented project. This Internet project is still designed to be usable in almost any discipline and can be adapted at any level and even now, after the '98 visit, the website still continues to be updated regularly. To learn more about the website and how to use it, visit the various links below.