Adventure Camp Offers Kids Chance to Discover Themselves


Summer expedition programs such as Outward Bound and Earthwatch Institute broaden teens’ perspective of the world, of others and themselves. Through them, youths discover that they are far more capable than they realized, says Katie Newsom Pastuszek, executive director of Philadelphia Outward Bound School.

The Philadelphia Outward Bound School’s summer enrollment programs serve students from PA, NJ and DE, in three age groups: 12-13, 14-16 and 16-18.Team building at Philadelphia Outward Bound

Aside from the adrenaline rush experienced from backpacking in the Appalachian Mountains or white-water rafting along the Delaware River in a team-fashioned raft, their expeditions can be transformative learning experiences that foster collaborative work and responsible group decision making.

Boston-based Earthwatch is an international environmental nonprofit that “brings individuals from all walks of life together with world-class scientists to work for the good of the planet,” according to its website.

Experience the wilderness

In its “experience-based outdoor leadership programs,” Outward Bound’s instructors teach students to use their own resources. “An Outward Bound experience builds character, inspires leadership and inspires within our students service to the environment and each other. It’s all about the perceived risks and experiencing wilderness in a natural setting,” says Pastuszek.

As a crew, campers surmount natural challenges such as weather. For example, “they learn how to tie knots correctly to hang their tarps to keep their stuff dry,” she says.

They learn how to be self-sufficient and self-reliant in their actions and activities as a team, moving themselves, their gear and their crew along a trail or river site. As they build skills, instructors assess campers and give them more responsibility, notes Kim Glodek, associate program director.

A powerful learning experience

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth maintains in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance that the most reliable predictor of student success in life is grit — not IQ or talent — and that anyone can learn to be gritty.

 “The genius of the Outward Bound is that it is very good at creating a positive, collaborative climate, so when the going gets tough, the youth mobilize to support and encourage the group,” says Reed Larson of the University of Illinois, who is conducting Outward Bound grit research for the Duckworth Foundation. “Mentors create a kind of safety net to help youth learn to talk about it, think about it and recognize that they can exceed their expectations.”

Conduct conservation research

“Generally, going abroad is the best way to reset your thinking about the world, especially when you are figuring out who you are and what you want to do,” says Keegan Dougherty, senior expedition advisor at the Earthwatch Institute.

For 15-year-olds Earthwatch offers three different ways to travel. One way is as an individual who joins a team united by a common interest, “whether it is turtle research in the Bahamas or archeology in Belize. They get to know their teammates, the research, the site and the culture,” Dougherty says.

Another program is with a teacher and group of their peers from school. A third approach enables adults to take their children on an expedition, Dougherty explains.

Earthwatch guides teams through various stages until they become a cohesive group. Facilitators guide youth through each stage, such as breaking the ice or laying the expedition groundwork, helping them resolve conflicts and put aside differences to work together seamlessly, says Dougherty.

Earthwatch participant Jacob Schenthal calls the experience life-changing. “During my expedition to Little Cayman to help research endangered coral reefs, I not only learned about issues, but was able to see my research and effort go toward a scientific organization to help combat global environmental issues,” he says.

Geologists such as Dougherty have seen dreams become real, achievable goals. “It is mind blowing for kids to share their observations and be a part of actual research.”

Lynda Dell is a local freelance writer


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