For Immediate Release: December 10th, 2012
CONTACT:Scott Wolland, 510-452-BAWT(2298) x 302, email@example.com, www.bawt.org
Shannon Darcey is a 7th grade Humanities Middle School Teacher at Urban Promise Academy in Oakland. She gave this speech at BAWTs annual Into the Wild Fundraising breakfast this October at the Grand Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
Last spring Jennifer came into my classroom one morning with a pamphlet from Cal State Humboldt. She walked over to me, held it up and said, “Ms. Darcey, I’m going to go to college here one day. Look how beautiful it is. I can’t wait to live somewhere with so many trees!” Her older cousin had brought home the pamphlet and as soon as Jennifer saw the pictures, she was sold. Jennifer, the child of two parents who immigrated to the US from Mexico and El Salvador, will be the first person in her family to go to college, so of course hearing a declaration like that from her would make any teacher’s day. But I was especially touched that Jennifer had been so moved by the physical beauty of the school’s location, when 8 months earlier, Jennifer had never even been on a hike before. This changed on her first day of school in seventh grade when Jennifer stepped onto a bus headed for Point Reyes National Seashore for three days. Just last week she returned from a three day backpacking trip in Big Basin. Weeks after she returned from the Point Reyes trip last year Jennifer started to carry around an intro to Ecology textbook that her older brother took out of the library for her because she couldn’t wait to read as much as she could about wild animals. It was clear Jennifer’s life was changed forever. If it were not for BAWT our school would have never been able to make these experiences happen for Jennifer, and perhaps she wouldn’t one day end up at Cal State Humboldt.
I teach at Urban Promise Academy, a small public middle school in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland. Over 90% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch and 60% of our students are English Language learners. Despite the fact that our school is located less than five miles from Redwood Regional Park, two weeks ago not one of my students knew what a Redwood tree was when fliers were handed out for an art competition being held by the “Save the Redwoods League.” Surrounded by concrete streets, in a neighborhood centered between two freeways, and with much easier access to screens than to nature, our students generally have very little connection to the environment. In a time when it is so critical that all kids develop this connection so that they appreciate the environment enough to want to protect it, it is our job as educators to facilitate this connection. This, combined with a need and desire to strengthen the culture and community of the school led a small group of teachers to seek out possible outdoor education opportunities several years ago. We knew that spending time together outside of the walls of our school, and outside of Oakland had the potential to lead to the creation of relationships, and the development of problem solving skills that would be carried back to the classroom and change the dynamics significantly. We just had to find a way to make that happen while our school budget was slowly being chipped away.
Four years ago the 7th grade teachers began to plan our first annual trip to the Clem Miller Environmental Education Center at the Point Reyes National Seashore. The Education Center is an incredible resource, but while we all had our own varying levels of experience in the outdoors, we certainly didn’t feel prepared to lead our students on a several day trip, nor did we have access to the sleeping bags, clothing, boots, backpacks, etc. that our students would need to make the trip happen. That was when we learned about BAWT and another teacher and I signed up for the WLT.
During the five day training, there were challenging, tiring experiences that put me outside of my comfort zone; but through this, I was able to get to know and trust the people on my WLT in ways I otherwise would not. This was the experience we wanted to recreate with our students. By taking them out of school and their neighborhood, where labels seem permanent, any barriers between them would be broken down. After the training, we were ready to start planning the details of our first trip.
On this trip, every 7th grade student spends three days and two nights in Point Reyes during the first week of school. It is a trip of firsts for many of our students. Their first night away from home. Their first campfire. Their first time dipping their toes into the ocean. Their first time seeing a deer. Their first time hiking five miles at one time. Their first time sleeping in a sleeping bag. Their first time peeing in the woods. They leave with memories that will never be forgotten and friendships they never would have otherwise developed. It is so incredible for me as a teacher to get to know my students every year outside of the classroom, just as people and as kids, before we sit down at a desk to read or write. After four years, I can’t imagine beginning the school year any other way.
Since our first trip to Point Reyes, every 7th grade teacher attended the BAWT snowshoeing training and we have taken a group of 20 students up to Tahoe every year for yet another first- the first time seeing snow for many. Last year, we extended this outdoor education experience to all three grade levels. Our 6th grade teachers attended the Camping in the Presidio training through BAWT and will be taking their second class of 6th graders to the Presidio in just a couple of weeks. Our 8th graders just returned from three days of backpacking in Big Basin on Friday. I’m pretty sure all of BAWTs gear has been living in our school for past month to make these three trips happen. Next year, our now 7th graders will graduate and leave our school having experienced all three of these trips. Who knows how many more Jennifers we’ll have dreaming of Humboldt one day?
The impact that these trips have on our students can be summed up much better in their words than in mine. This year on our Point Reyes trip I had the privilege of getting to wait for students at the end of their solo hike. While all of the girls I had in my group waited at the start with their other teacher, I headed down the trail setting up journal prompts for them to respond to along the way and then made myself comfortable on the side of the trail where we would all regroup. One by one, they appeared into my view with their journal in hand. I silently motioned for each of them to hand me their journal and find a seat. As I read each of their journals, nothing could have made me stop smiling. Keep in mind that for the most part, these questions were not specific to the trip, but to their lives in general.
Prompt: What is one thing you’ve accomplished that you never thought you would and that you want to remember?
-Hiking in the middle of the night without a flashlight!
-I hiked and I’ve never hiked before, so I would love to remember that forever and do it in the future.
-I want to remember that I survived three days in the wilderness!
-I want to remember this solo hike. I never thought I would do this.
-One thing I thought I was never going to do is hang out with people I usually don’t hang out with.
Prompt: Close your eyes. What do you hear? How is it different from Oakland?
-I hear birds chirping and moving around. In Oakland I hear gunshots.
Prompt: What is one thing you want your teachers to know about you?
-I want my teachers to know that I’m a person who likes the wild.
Prompt: What do you want to do when you grow up?
-When I become an adult, I want to come back here to Point Reyes and take my family.
I sat there reading and felt so incredibly lucky that we are able to recreate this experience for our students year after year. The development of this multiyear outdoor education program at our school would never have happened without the formation of our close partnership with BAWT.
For Immediate Release: October 10, 2012
CONTACT:Scott Wolland, 510-452-BAWT(2298) x 302, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bawt.org