WYP Goes to School

Lizard’s Mouth, 11:30 am. It is the pinnacle of October weather: aromatic, golden, warm. A group of kids scamper, pell mell, in and around the boulders, folds and caves. They are looking for a suitable, “Hotel room,” for their teacher. Did I mention it was Thursday? That’s right; school is in session.

Students peer over the Lizard’s Mouth.

 Wilderness Youth Project recently completed a two year partnership with the Adams Elementary School here in Santa Barbara, CA . The story goes that the Principal, Ms. Alzina, was appreciating how well her students responded to spending time in the garden (thanks to the Orfalea Foundation’s School Gardens program) and was wishing for more opportunities of a similar nature.  The following year, WYP was taking students from a fifth grade class, every Thursday for half of the day, out of the classroom and into the wild.

This was new territory. The goals did not fit neatly under the gauzy banner of Environmental Education; the kids were not using the Scientific Method. The only active hypothesis was that increasing the amount of time that kids spent in places of wild character would yield good results. The science is in, and continues to be further developed: Nature makes children smarter, healthier and happier (and the most overlooked aspect of this statement is that it does it all at the same time!). Still, like most systems governed by the natural world, the processes at work require attentive observation to understand how best we, as humans, can fold them into our own practices; in this particular case, the practice of educating our children.  Principal Alzina’s perspective was that the program was a success: 

“Wilderness Youth Project has sparked new hope and an excitement for learning our students.   These at-risk students are experiencing “success” for the first time in their lives.  Their self-confidence and motivation to learn is more than I could have ever hoped for.   This love for learning is what we as educators strive to achieve in all of our children. ” 

Embracing the day.

This is one of the questions that Wilderness Youth Project is currently exploring: What is the potential of integrating formal education with periods of immersion in places of wild character? And what practices most efficiently realize that potential?  At the core, WYP envisions a simple cycle; the stories generated out in the field are harvested and refined in the classroom. Specific concepts are teased out and highlighted and we return to the field more practiced and more aware of the systems, the forces and the life around us. And thus, the stories with which we return are that much richer and more complex. But growth and development are so complex, particularly in early adolescence. What are the effects on participants’ confidence, empathy, dispositions toward nature and their peers? As WYP embarks on its new partnership with Adelante Charter School it is developing assessment protocols that will help explore these questions and refine its practices.

WYP is continually seeking schools with which to partner,  and is concurrently seeking funding for our school day programs. Of particular interest would be schools that feel they have a candidate teacher(s) ready to integrate the students’ experiences into the school’s curriculum, as well as schools seeking to develop long-term change that extends beyond a direct partnership with Wilderness Youth Project. We hope to hear from you.

Author: Andrew Lindsey