School prep program for Burlington-Edison college students goes outdoor | Training


MOUNT VERNON – On a final sunny Saturday, about a dozen students from the Burlington-Edison School District hiked the winding trails to the top of Little Mountain, learning safety tips for the outdoors and the plants and animals in the forest.

The students were part of GEAR UP, which partnered with the Vamos Outdoors Project to provide outdoor recreation and education for the students on the program.

GEAR UP (Early Awareness and Preparedness for Bachelor’s Programs) is a federally funded scholarship program that focuses on helping students enter college as the first in their families.

Heather Paton, GEAR UP site coordinator for the Burlington-Edison school district, said the program works with students starting in sixth grade and completing the first year of their undergraduate studies.

She said GEAR UP turned to offer virtual programs last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fall, the company entered into a partnership with the Vamos Outdoors Project for the first time to offer personal outdoor activities.

Whatcom County, a nonprofit, is focused on providing outdoor educational experiences for Latin American and English-speaking students.

“We work with a lot of Spanish-speaking families,” said Paton. “That’s why this partnership with Vamos Outdoors (project) was really wonderful.”

She said fall programs included outdoor scavenger hunts, salmon training, and disc golf. This spring, expanded activities such as hiking and mountain biking were added.

“Children really want to get out of the house, and it’s perfect that we can socialize outside (where we) and have them wear masks,” said Paton.

About a dozen students participated in the Little Mountain hike on May 1, the second week of spring activities.

Fatima Flores, a sophomore at Burlington-Edison High School, said the online school had kept her from seeing friends in person this year. She said when the outdoor programs started last fall, she was happy to be with others again.

“I thought it was fun,” she said. “It was nice to see someone.”

On the May 1 hike, Fernando Santa Cruz, an eighth grade student at Allen Elementary School, spotted a banana snail while on a scavenger hunt.

He said he would like to learn “how trees, flowers and animals work and how they grow”.

While hiking with Fernando, Alfredo Corvalan, a collaborator on the Vamos Outdoors project, reminded the eighth grader that “nature is all around you”.

“It’s not just exclusive to parks or national parks,” he said.

Corvalan said the goal of the Vamos Outdoors project is to improve outdoor access for members of the Latinx community. He said he wants to teach students how to protect themselves outdoors and protect the environment.

“Most of these children may not have known anything about nature,” he said. “I want you to learn about the environment and the environment.”

Paton said any opportunity to connect with GEAR UP students outside of school is important.

She said while outdoor activities may not involve explicit conversations about higher education, having access to fun and new experiences helps students feel valued and that their mental health is important.

{p dir = ”ltr”} {span} ”If they know this is important to the adults who work with them, they are more likely to come to us for discussions about what they would like to do after high school “, she said. {/ Range}


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