Three ways I’m equipping teens to enjoy nature, regardless of experience
By Hunter Stafford, a Social Studies and Outdoor Leadership teacher
Growing up in the mountains of Denver, I spent many weekends outdoors with my family which instilled in me an appreciation for nature. I love giving students the opportunity to explore nature, regardless of income or experience, so, as a teacher, I created a program to help students state-wide.
1. Providing nature excursions at little cost
I started an Outdoor Leadership class where students participate in four outings each school year. These include a weekend backpacking trip 3-8 miles into the mountains, a training certification week to learn Wilderness First-Aid and CPR, a snowshoeing trip with avalanche rescue training, and a volunteer day at JeffCo Open Space, followed by river rafting. By working with local groups, I was able to secure backpacking and other trip materials for students. These trips are extremely low cost to students, and even more accessible to those who are a part of our free and reduced lunch program. In addition to our Outdoor Leadership class, I also started a mountain biking club where students and parents are invited to meet up every week in open spaces around Denver. By partnering with a local nonprofit called Recycle Bicycles, we are able to provide bicycles and helmets to students and families at no cost. We love getting the parents involved, and many of our students have no wilderness experience so it’s very special to bring these experiences to anyone who wants it.
2. Fostering transformative change
Not only do I work to provide nature survival techniques through the clubs and my Outdoor Leadership course, but we strive to teach students communication, relationship building and practical life skills. On each of our trips we complete team-building activities, icebreakers, and meditation while emphasizing communication and leadership, and harnessing the talents our students already have. I think it’s important for these experiences to be unique to the individual and granting these kids exposure to the great outdoors will help prepare them to think on their feet and navigate the world around them. Even if the students do not choose a career that has to do with nature, they are still CPR and First-Aid certified after our trips, so they are equipped to save lives.
3. Encouraging confidence & awareness
The opportunities offered to students are rarely available to kids in the modern world. Spending time outdoors when I was younger gave me confidence and appreciation which changed my life forever, and I believe that introducing students to these open-air experiences can foster creativity, mindfulness, and self-reliance in ways that can’t be found in the traditional classroom. With the chance to participate in something new, these students are building confidence to establish beneficial life skills.
I care a lot about outdoor education, and believe students need strong leaders in their lives. As a teacher I make every effort to build relationships, be a reliable mentor, build an inclusive community, and reach students in unique ways. I’m thankful for the opportunity to encourage and motivate young leaders and hope all students can benefit from the exploration of the great outdoors.
Hunter Stafford is a Social Studies and Outdoor Leadership teacher at Destinations Career Academy of Colorado (CODCA) and lives in the Denver area.
To learn morea about Destinations Career Academy of Colorado, visit https://codca.k12.com/.