Friday, April 28, 2017

Expanding Horizons, Positive Youth Development, and SEL: The Power of Nature, Part 2

By Sam Piha


Sam Piha
Offering young people the chance to experience nature, particularly wilderness settings, provides powerful opportunities to promote social-emotional learning, build character skills, and build relationships and a sense of belonging. (See Part 1 of this blog post here.)

Below we continue our interview with youth program leaders who can speak directly to the power of outdoor and wilderness experiences for youth, especially inner-city youth.


Q: Exposing youth to the outdoors can be an expensive and complex task. For programs that do not have access to transportation or camping equipment, what is your recommendation for how they can expose their youth to the outdoors?
Bob Cabeza,
Youth Institute

Bob Cabeza, Youth Institute: I would strongly recommend partnering with agencies who have lots of experience in outdoor education as well as experience in Youth Development. Make sure that they have diverse staff as role models and leaders for the youth. Otherwise, its usually white enfranchised staff from wealthier socio-economic backgrounds and environments who are totally into the wilderness and environment due to life long access but know very little nor can empathize with inner city minority youth. 

A day trip does not give any type of long term impact that a multi-day camping wilderness experience does. They are not the same thing. Also, minority low-income youth need to gain access to beautiful nature, not just a local park. According to National Park data, over 92% of people who visit the parks are caucasian and older. We need to turn that around quickly or this generation will not have the love of the outdoors and advocate for the environment when they get older. 

We contract with other agencies and YMCA's nationally to take youth into the wilderness. I would advise programs to start small. Start with a few youth and staff and maybe a three day camping experience. That way, the cost is less and the staff gain confidence and experience as they move forward.

Brad Lupien,
arc
Brad Lupien and Staff from arc: Transportation in particular is expensive which poses a challenge for may programs. Adventure Sports and camping can be costly too.  But, parks, beaches, forests are cheap. 

Some ideas:
  • There are lots of curriculum books out there for activities that can be done on a campus.  These may be east coast based and out of date but examples include; “Keepers of the Earth” and “And This our Life.”  Activities include leaf identification, nature art, gardening etc.  Essentially, you can bring nature to the schools. At the same time, getting OUT in nature is preferred.
  • There are cheaper ways to get kids into nature. Los Angeles added bus routes that have stops at State Parks.  “Surf Bus” offers surf instruction and the bus for free.  Online pages offer geocaching in local parks. The DOCENTS at city, state and national parks will do group specific walks/talks for free.
  • Finally, we, at arc, use the adventure outings as part of the leadership curriculum.  On campus classes and workshops on communication, problem solving, critical thinking, group dynamics are paired with culminating adventure/nature trips. This allows more expensive programs to be paired with less expensive programs which gets the overall budget to align.

Ashanti Branch, Ever Forward Club: I love the outdoor element, but it
requires an enormous amount of time and planning. To make this happen, we
Ashanti Branch,
Ever Forward Club
take advantage of the offerings of programs that specialize in taking youth on wilderness and camping trips. We partner with Bay Area Wilderness Training, which provides a gear library so that the cost barrier to getting youth outdoors is not a factor. We also partner with Young Men's Ultimate Weekend, a modern day Rites of Passage for young men. We have taken over 60 of our youth to this weekend over the years. This organization creates an outdoor weekend initiation for young men as they are making the journey from young men into mature adulthood. 


Q: What kind of experiences does your program offer youth? 

Bob Cabeza, Youth InstituteWe offer a one week wilderness retreat for our Youth as an entry point to the Youth Institute to help them develop socially and emotionally before we delve into the academic and workforce skill building parts of our program. These experiences are not 'cabin camp'. They are outward bound type of experiences where youth sleep on the ground, build their own shelters, cook, clean, do orienteering, hike, climb, swim in lakes and rivers. They are intense group work learning impactful transformational experiences for youth. Our Youth bond as one family through these experiences and in numerous evaluations, this experience is what keeps them actively engaged in all areas of our program for many years. 


Photo Credit: Youth Institute
Brad Lupien and Staff from arc: What arc Adventure doesn’t offer is a cookie-cutter program. Every kid, every teenager, and every adult is unique in every possible way, so our trips are as well. The most important thing an outdoor education experience can be is accessible, so that participants feel welcome in the new environment and are encouraged to come back. We don’t make assumptions about the groups that we work with, making them fit into the “arc” culture and way of running programs. We take the time to learn the school or team culture, the comfort and participation level of the group, and the things the group wants to accomplish in their time with us, so that our program is a natural extension of their learning and a singularly memorable experience that they’ll want to repeat again and again.

Arc programming ranges from single day adventures (rock climbing, snorkeling, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, surfing, canyoneering) to multi-day camping and backpacking trips.  Staff consist of certified guides to handle the adventures and naturalist/scientist to layer in the hands-on science.  Everyone is trained on youth development, leave-no-trace philosophy and group facilitation.  Whether working with a college, elementary school, church, or after school program we design the program to meet the unique needs of the group while always blending the “sport” with life and social skills lessons.  A day of rock climbing teaches figure 8 knots and ATC use but also how to deal with fear in our lives and how communication is a critical tool in goal setting.



Photo Credit: arc


Dr. Mark Schillinger, DC
YMUW
Dr. Mark Schillinger, Young Men's Ultimate Weekend: The Young Men's Ultimate Weekend is a modern, nonreligious, wilderness rite of passage initiation for young men ages 13 – 20. Young men of all socio - economic backgrounds attend our event in order to freely voice their concerns about becoming a man and acquire the leadership skills necessary for a responsible adulthood. Young men are in an environment where they can voice their concerns about adulthood, learn leadership skills and discover their own, personal values. The YMUW has a one-to-one ratio of mentors to young men, so young men are in a village with well-trained caring adult men who know how to model the right values.


------------
Bob Cabeza is Vice President of Community Development at the YMCA of Greater Long Beach and Founder of the Youth Institute. The Youth Institute is a year-round program that uses technology as an integral mechanism for promoting positive youth development and developing pathways to post secondary education and career readiness of low-income, culturally diverse urban high school youth. They built their program culture by exposing their youth to wilderness experiences. 

Brad Lupien is President and CEO at arcarc is an after school and experiential education provider. They bridge the opportunity gap by creating transformational learning opportunities that empower youth to realize their full potential. They rely heavily on engaging youth in outdoor sports and wilderness activities.


Ashanti Branch is Founder and Executive Director at Ever Forward Club. Founded in 2004, the Ever Forward Club mentors young men of color in middle and high school by providing them with safe, brave communities that build character and transform lives.  


Dr. Mark Schillinger, DC, is Co-Founder of Young Men's Ultimate Weekend (YMUW). The purpose of YMUW is to provide young men with a weekend filled with incredible fun and challenges, while building a foundation for a confident and successful adulthood, through learning the importance of teamwork, developing a sense of accomplishment and acquiring leadership skills.

Monday, April 24, 2017

#heartofafterschool

By Sam Piha


Sam Piha
Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week is a joint effort of community partners, afterschool programs, youth and child care workers and individuals who have committed to declaring the last full week of April each year as a time to recognize and appreciate those who work with youth during out-of-school hours. Join us for celebrations and display your appreciation to thank afterschool professionals who make a difference in the lives of young people. 


- National AfterSchool Association


Below are a number of resources that can help you celebrate this week. Click on the images below.




A good way to appreciate afterschool is to SAVE afterschool. Click on the images below to learn more.



You can learn more about why afterschool works from Mott Foundation CEO and Chairman, Bill White. You can click on the quote and view the video below. 



Thursday, April 13, 2017

Expanding Horizons, Positive Youth Development, and SEL: The Power of Nature, Part 1

By Sam Piha


Sam Piha
When I managed afterschool programs in West Contra Costa County (CA), we found that taking young people into nature and the wilderness were very powerful experiences. These included backpacking, canoe trips, and a week long outdoor experience at the YMCA camp on the eel river. 

Below we offer two videos that capture the importance of taking young people into nature. The first video focuses on older youth who are learning to rock climb. The second video focuses on Oakland children who are visiting nearby Muir Woods. For many, this is the first time that they have been outside of the city.


Youth Development, Entrepreneurship, and Rock Climbing
Nature Now


National parks turn into classrooms to turn a 
new generation into nature lovers

You can view an article from the Greater Good Science Center and another article authored by Bob Cabeza. 

Below we offer an interview with youth program leaders who can speak directly to the power of outdoor and wilderness experiences for youth, especially inner-city youth.

Q: What are benefits to exposing young people to nature and the wilderness - benefits to individuals, the group, even the adult supervisors?


Bob Cabeza,
Youth Institute
Bob Cabeza, Youth InstituteNature is therapy to the nature deprived. Both young staff and youth create family bonds, learn about themselves and their place in the world and truly developed multiple skills simultaneously. It's layered hyper learning for all of the senses. Nature heals the wounds that society inflicts upon young people. Nature can be used as a rite of passage and as a medium to impact young people's lives in meaningful and productive ways. Such as helping them come to terms with issues in their lives. Helping them understand their potential and place in the world. There are numerous opportunities for metaphorical learning that are directly transferred into real life problem solving, academic and workforce skills. Nature unto itself teaches introspection and develops an appreciation of beauty and peace. It is meditative to the brain, heart and soul. 


Brad Lupien,
arc
Brad Lupien and Staff from arcA hike, paddle, peddle, climb, or adventure in the back country truly expands horizons.  By stripping away the noises, stresses and chaos of daily life, one’s mind can open up.  There is a reason that across all cultures and religions prolonged time in nature is a rite of passage, a path to a higher being, and method for enlightenment.  More practically, adventure sports, gear and experience has become a pastime of the wealthy.  But, our parks, forests and beaches are free … or very inexpensive.  

Taking kids into nature is a simple and inexpensive way to close an opportunity gap. If we know that learning happens when it is active learning and/or collaborative learning, then outdoor education is a no brainer.  Young people must work together to reach a common goal (the top of a mountain, a distant island, or a the other side of a stream) and passive observation as you ascend, paddle, or traverse is simply not an option.   At arc, we often find that the adults staff joining the group as “chaperones” become “co-players” without prompt or push.  They come as the adult authority and leave as a co-participant.  The experience brings out the inner child and melts the traditional student/teacher, learner/presenter relationships.  Learning becomes collaborative with the adult vs for the adult.


Ashanti Branch,
Ever Forward Club

Ashanti Branch, Ever Forward Club
Outdoors are a bonding opportunity for youth. Getting young men out of their regular environment allows for an opening of the mind and a deepening of the heart. Often times within the confines of the concrete jungles with all of the radio waves and search for bars and likes; our young people often miss out on deep conversations and connections that they desperately want and need.  






Dr. Mark Schillinger, DC
YMUW
Dr. Mark Schillinger, Young Men's Ultimate WeekendAs a youth mentor, I have dealt with many young men who are having a hard time in school, struggling to have healthy relationships, and suffering from emotional problems because of their lack of exposure to the healing qualities of nature and to the lessons it offers.

I have seen how getting young men active and involved in group outdoor activities has helped them develop analytical skills. The demands of being outdoors force them to evaluate situations carefully and to hone their masculine wisdom and logic to make good decisions. Being outside, as it turns out, is not only good for their bodies—it’s also good for cognition. Something magical happens when young men are given the freedom to experience nature. Socially, physically, and mentally, they grow. Nature is the best classroom for them to discover who they really are, practice accepting and dealing with real-world situations, and gain trust in other males and their ability to work together to get things done. They develop confidence in their instincts and overcome their fears of the unknown.

Q: This is important for all children and youth. Why is it especially important for low-income and inner-city youth?

Bob Cabeza, Youth InstituteWell run outdoor education programs in nature teach problem solving, social and emotional learning, build intense positive relationships between peers and adults. It also tests ones confidence and develops critical, analytical, abstract and sequential thinking skills. These experiences can be tailored to teach communication skills, diversity and decision-making, and intense long term team building. – Bob Cabeza

Brad Lupien and Staff from arcThe importance of exposing low-income and inner-city youth to the outdoors cannot be overstated. Many students form our urban centers have no exposure to the state parks, forest areas, public beaches, and lakes right in their backyards.  Once they experience nature’s classroom and playground for the first time an awakening can occur within them. 

Half of the kayaking trips we take with low-income Los Angeles youth find that the kids have lived in LA their whole life, but have never seen the ocean. Most of the trips we lead with inner-city youth see the most common questions not being about the bugs or the dirt, but “Is this free?” and “Can I take my family?” After playing in the outdoors and feeling that instant connection to nature, it opens up a whole new world that students want to be part of, and they want to take their families with them. It exposes them to healthy lifestyles, environmental awareness, and a love of wildlife that they might not otherwise have access to. 

Dr. Mark Schillinger, Young Men's Ultimate Weekend: Getting young children out into nature is important for inner-city youth. Inner-city youth tend to be closed-in by buildings, buses and bulldozers. Nature is the perfect playground for them to more fully challenge their brains in a healthy way to develop their learning skills. Because movement and learning go hand-in-hand, nature affords young people the ability to move more freely, without worry of getting hurt or hurting others. Additionally, inner-city youth are under a great deal of stress. Nature is the perfect playground to release their pent-up energy safely and freely. Additionally, by being out in nature – especially at night – children learn to develop the virtue of, "awe". It's important for inner-city youth to begin to contemplate that nature does not only include the earth, but also includes a vast and mysterious universe that needs to be explored.

------------
Bob Cabeza is Vice President of Community Development at the YMCA of Greater Long Beach and Founder of the Youth Institute. The Youth Institute is a year-round program that uses technology as an integral mechanism for promoting positive youth development and developing pathways to post secondary education and career readiness of low-income, culturally diverse urban high school youth. They built their program culture by exposing their youth to wilderness experiences. 

Brad Lupien is President and CEO at arcarc is an after school and experiential education provider. They bridge the opportunity gap by creating transformational learning opportunities that empower youth to realize their full potential. They rely heavily on engaging youth in outdoor sports and wilderness activities.

Ashanti Branch is Founder and Executive Director at Ever Forward Club. Founded in 2004, the Ever Forward Club mentors young men of color in middle and high school by providing them with safe, brave communities that build character and transform lives.  

Dr. Mark Schillinger, DC, is Co-Founder of Young Men's Ultimate Weekend (YMUW). The purpose of YMUW is to provide young men with a weekend filled with incredible fun and challenges, while building a foundation for a confident and successful adulthood, through learning the importance of teamwork, developing a sense of accomplishment and acquiring leadership skills.