The Importance of Outdoor Education
Maricela Guerrero, Executive Director, Rocketship California
I remember a very important camping trip 12 years ago that I took with our Rocketeers in Vida Verde that not only transformed my students’ lives, but mine as well. One chilly morning in February 2008, an empty, yellow school bus waited in front of our school, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, ready to take 30 students for an unforgettable adventure. Eagerly, everyone picked up their suitcase, sleeping bags, and San Marcos blankets. No one questioned why a suitcase would be an odd thing to take on a camping trip. But you see, our kids never went camping before.
I was born and raised in South Central, Los Angeles, in a neighborhood very similar to the neighborhoods where our students come from. For us, places like Vida Verde, Alliance, and Yosemite are a dream that is unreachable – beautiful places we won’t ever get to experience. They’re unreachable because our students face endless struggles with immigration, unemployment, housing, and finances. Many of our families live in multigenerational households, crammed into one-bedroom apartments, so that they can make ends meet.
But this is where our outdoor education programming comes in. See, outdoor education is more than just a camping trip for kids. It is so much more than just science camp. It is a transformational adventure that builds kids’ hope, character, leadership, and desire to pursue their dreams. These camping trips take our students to places they may have heard about but never dreamed they would ever get to experience because Black and brown children from their neighborhoods don’t usually get these kinds of opportunities.
To fully understand the impact that these camping programs have had on my students, let me tell you about all the invaluable lessons that our kids have learned on these trips throughout the years and how the impact has grown and manifested itself long after their camping journey ends.
- The nature hike in the Redwoods transformed Rocketship Los Sueños students in 2013 into environmental stewards as they organized a whole community to clean up pebble beach.
- In 2014, milking goats and trying cheese-making transformed Jessi Lopez and inspired him to become a famous baker someday. Today, Jessi is a high schooler and is teaching his little brother how to add fresh ingredients to his dishes. I have had the privilege of enjoying his homemade tortillas, salads, and some delicious cakes. Move out the way Bobby Flay, there is a new chef in town!
- The beach and marsh exploration in 2010 transformed Pedro Castillo and Maya Diaz into problem solvers and scientists. Maya and Pedro helped their high school’s engineering club design a greywater system and rainwater storage system to help their community save water. Their project sailed through five phases of competition in the nationwide Samsung Solve For Tomorrow contest, beating out thousands of other STEM projects to win $150,000 in technology for their school. Pretty awesome.
- The night walk on her trip in 2011 transformed Luna Cervantes into a confident and courageous leader. She later spoke in front of dozens of people and stood up to advocate for herself and her community about the need for a high quality middle school in her neighborhood.
- The Organic Farm Tour & Tasting in 2011 transformed Estrella Luna and her mother, inspiring them to partner up with “La Mesa Verde,” a local organization that teaches urban household members how to grow their own organic garden. Now the Lunas eat a healthy and fresh meal every day!
Year after year, our Rocketeers build long-lasting bonds with their peers and school staff on these camping trips. Outdoor education gives our students a great venue to learn how to work together and collaborate – even outside of the classroom. On top of that, outdoor education creates memories for our students that they never forget. We are creating joy for our Rocketeers with activities like nighttime bonfires with s’mores, days at the beach exploring and listening to the calming sounds of the ocean, endless fun moments with each other in their cabins, great conversations at the dinner table, zip-lining, and the unforgettable bus rides to and from.
I will never forget that first camping trip I took with my students in 2008, and I know that many of you have had an amazing time this year creating unforgettable memories with your own students. I am eternally grateful that we prioritize and offer outdoor education to all our Rocketeers – an education that exposes them to many wonderful things and continues to impact their lives even after they leave Rocketship. Our outdoor education offering is part of our commitment to providing our Rocketeers with a holistic education and all the benefits that come with it. Thank you for all the hard work and effort you have put in to give our Rocketeers this gift.
Published on January 13, 2023