Fishing skills

Emotional growth, life skills part of Future School’s outdoor summer program

An outdoor summer program offered by Future School of Fort Smith serves two purposes – to allow students from across the region to have an epic outdoor summer experience while recruiting for the school.

Future School of Fort Smith is a public charter school in Fort Smith established in 2016. The school has 300 students in grades nine through 12.

A school outdoor education program has two classes for students – an entry level class that focuses on teaching students to be responsible for public lands, the skills needed for hiking, rock climbing, camping, and kayaking; and a second-grade class where students take their new skills and learn to teach others. There are 12 places available for the two summer trips due to staff and equipment. The staff ratio is one staff member to four students.

In the summer, instructor Brett Roberts expands the program to allow any student in the ninth through 12th grade area to experience five days of hiking or kayaking. This summer, students kayaked an average of 10 miles per day on the Buffalo River to earn their 50-mile challenge patch in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the National Buffalo River. If you self-propelled 50 miles in Buffalo National River, you get a 50-mile challenge patch, Roberts said.

Due to the extreme heat, the 5-day backpacking trip this summer, which is usually the second trip of the summer, was a bit different, with students camping at Shores Lake hiking to the waterfall, kayaking on the lake, pushing back and climbing. , and fly fishing.

“With a week of 115 degree temperatures, we had to rethink things to keep the kids safe and make sure they had accessible water.”

The programs are open to all students, not just Future School students, Roberts said.

“It’s one of our recruiting programs. But it also serves to teach students and allow them an outdoor experience. It’s a summer learning program,” she says.

Roberts’ primary goal in its outdoor programming is equity, making things accessible to all students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Everything we do is free, and it gives children who might not have the opportunity to go out for a variety of reasons – socio-economic reasons, lack of skills or ability, a chance to go out in the open. air of high adventure. It allows them to experience these kinds of things in a low-risk environment,” Roberts said. “A lot of kids have never left Fort Smith or maybe even their neighborhood or part of the It shows them what Arkansas has to offer in terms of outdoor recreation and what options are available, what kinds of things you can do outdoors.

The program provides everything students need for the trip, including equipment, instruction, and food.

“The only thing children have to provide is clothes. And I’m working on that, to get us clothes and good shoes for our children. That’s one of our biggest needs right now, getting the kids to wear appropriate clothes and shoes so they don’t mess up their school shoes,” Roberts said.

Roberts would also like to see more representation in the group of black and Hispanic students.

“I think it’s important to have representation from those who love them,” Roberts said. “So many times there is this stereotype of who can do that, who will do that. But we want it to be more representative, more diverse.

In addition to teaching outdoor skills, the program includes social-emotional growth. Students identify goals to work on with their group and to work on individually. Personal goals include community culture growth, personal growth, relationship with nature and open-ended goals, Roberts said.

Students respond to a socio-emotional survey at the start of the trip and at the end. They assess themselves on a range of topics and meet staff members who also assess them.

“And we compare and we talk,” Roberts said. “At the end of the trip, we start again. In fact, I’m looking for numbers to drop. They are more thoughtful, more introspective. They actually think about these things and their perspective changes.

Students then develop an action plan that they can use in their daily lives.

“The action plans are about learning from the field, where it’s relatively easy because there are no distractions. There are no cell phones, no Snapchat or Instagram. They don’t have TV to watch or YouTube or anything. The majority of our children have quite a chaotic life. They don’t always have a very structured parent unit, guardian unit, so it puts them in an environment that has a pretty rigid structure but allows them to grow,” Roberts said. “It keeps them away from ambivalence. They see, ‘If I don’t change, my life will continue to do this thing.’

Crystal Echols, an English teacher at the Future School, sent her 15-year-old daughter, Onesty Thomas, on one of the field trips this summer.

“She wanted to do the kayak trip, but I wasn’t sure. I was a little nervous about her being on the water the whole trip. But I want her to be able to take a trip, so I agreed to the hiking one. I grew up with Girl Scouts. I grew up being outdoors. I want my children to experience it too.

Echols said the two have had many conversations about it since.

“I think she’s been communicating more since she came back,” Echols said. “I will say, I think she thinks about things a little more (since coming back from the trip) than just acting or reacting. I think she learned to process her thoughts.

The experience was very different from the sports activities and sports-related trips her children have taken in the past, and she looks forward to her other two children taking part in similar trips in the future. She also gave permission for Thomas to attend the kayak trip next summer.

Thomas said his family isn’t planning on going out of town this summer, and with the COVID-19 pandemic having been very disruptive for the past two years, they really want to participate in the program’s outdoor adventures this summer.

“At first, I was a little scared. That first night, I worried if a bear might be outside our tent. But after the first night, everything was fine. I had a lot of fun,” she said.

Among the lessons learned over the five days, Thomas said the main one was not to judge people.

“We talked about it a lot. Everyone was really nice. It was a great experience,” she said.

Thomas plans to go on at least one of the adventures next summer and said she thinks the school’s outdoor summer program is very important to the community as a whole.

“There are so many children who don’t go outside to do things. I think it’s something they have to try,” she said.