My final post for 2013 is from Jen Murphy, MEd, Development Director of the Leelanau Outdoor Center (LOC) in Maple City, Michigan.
“Three years ago, I was living in a warm climate working with at-risk youth and their families and felt that I wasn’t making much of a difference. Too much red tape. Too much to change. And not enough support. I needed a different direction. I headed north.
What I didn’t know when I left a home and career behind for this new adventure, was where I would end up. I started writing grants for the Leelanau Outdoor Center (LOC), a non-profit outdoor education center that serves over 2500 students each year and focuses on both character education and stewardship of the outdoors.
What’s amazing is that outdoor education is one of those things that often gets a “back seat” to everything else going on in the classroom. Schools today are expected to do a lot: improve student test scores, increase graduation rates, individualize instruction and provide character education at the same time. Due to the demands placed on teachers and administrators to meet student performance standards, character education takes a back seat. This missing component often leads to classrooms with students who resort to fighting with peers and arguing with teachers because they don’t know how to get along with others and solve interpersonal problems effectively. Just like the kids I had worked with for years.
Programs at the Leelanau Outdoor Center (LOC) are designed to fill in this missing piece. A typical program includes full accommodations and meals for 3-4 days. Students are immersed in a safe and open atmosphere that is removed from the pressures of school and home life, so they are free to focus on the lessons of leadership, communication, and self-confidence. LOC also includes a variety of fun seasonal activities, such as hiking in the Sleeping Bear Dunes, aquatic studies, animal tracking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, canoeing, team building exercises, and navigating a high ropes course. What student wouldn’t benefit from that! In fact, nine out of ten students attending LOC attributes their time here for growth in confidence, leadership, and their ability to communicate with others.
Let me give you an example of what I have the opportunity to see every day. A recent group of middle school students participated in an exercise that helps students to identify root causes of bullying. Once the exercise was completed, the staff leader asked the group what their school would be like if they brought skills home. After a few silent moments, a voice from the back of the room piped up, “It would be like a family!” And in that moment, I realized that I was finally working somewhere that made a real difference.”
Leelanau Outdoor Center in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViJcpG5sAWU