I was a sixth-grader at Namanu Outdoor School ten years ago. I actually [just] had my ten-year anniversary. I’m now a [Camp] Howard program leader with the [same] animals field instructor who was an animals field instructor when I was in sixth grade! Lafcadio Adams, who was amazing, and I had our ten-year anniversary during the past session. She also wrote a book on beginner’s astronomy which I highly recommend. I’m plugging it right now. [Stargazing for Beginners: How to Find Your Way Around the Night Sky]
Outdoor School has always been that steady influence in my life. I went when I was in high school and I wasn’t in the best place. As you hear a lot—how Outdoor School can really help someone turn around and find what they’re good at. And so ever since I walked into Namanu—well, I guess rode into Namanu on that yellow school bus as a high school student leader—everything changed for me. It became my dream job. It became everything that I wanted to work towards. So I went as a [high school] senior as much as I could. I made sure I got that sash. I made sure that the staff remembered who I was.
I came back as a special-needs volunteer and did that many times until they finally hired me and started giving me money, which is always good! But I would do it for free. It’s the one job that even though it takes everything out of you — and there are some days where it’s hard to get up because you are so tired — and then you see the looks on those kids’ faces.
I can’t wait until we get back to full weeks because we had that one full week at the beginning of the session and that was just magic. You get to build a community with the kids. You get to this point where on the third day they start to remember how to set tables and they’re okay doing roustabouts. They’re excited to go clean bathrooms. You start seeing them shift. There are some kids who are hard to work with those first couple days, but then you hit that point in the week where you know they’re in it. They’re the kids who probably don’t get support at home or in school, and we [let] them be who they need to be. Those are the kids that step up as leaders. Those are the kids that when they go back home they are just changed. I hear that from so many teachers, that Outdoor School is that turning point for their sixth-graders.
There’s this kid who bullied me all through elementary school and middle school. [Then] we went to Outdoor School together. I have this picture of us going home on the bus and he is turned facing the rest of us, leading songs the whole entire bus ride back to school. From that point on, he went on to student government. He is now working in Washington [D.C] with a Senator. I can honestly say that without Outdoor School he would not have made that turn. He’d probably still be bullying me today, you know? But we are good friends because of Outdoor School. I think that is one of those testaments to the power of the program. It’s not just science. It’s not just learning about the world around you. It’s learning about yourself and how you can be a part of a community and really support people.