By: Kate Bovarnick
Ask any Common Ground student about the Adventure Club, and their faces light up. “The adventure club is so awesome. Like, I never thought I could go backpacking for miles on end, I didn’t know how to ski,” explained Junior Jesus Reyes. “The club really allows you to experience nature and learn new skills.”
The adventure club is the brain child of Science teacher Jeremy Stone, who five years ago saw an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. Stone became connected to the Appalachian Mountain Club, an organization that promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of the Appalachian region. He learned about a program AMC operates aimed towards urban youth who have few opportunities and resources to experience the outdoors, called Youth Opportunities Program. Stone participated in a training the program offered to educators and learned how to lead youth in outdoor activities such as backpacking, skiing, camping, and hiking. “The club allows for students to connect to nature in a way they normally would not be able to,” explained Stone. “It’s not camping in your backyard.”
Common Ground students have the opportunity to experience 5-6 outdoor focused outings. Each trip lasts around 3 days and is focused on a seasonal outdoor activity, led by a group of staff members including Stone. Trip activities range from skiing, to backpacking, to white water rafting, although students aren’t required to have any previous experience. Through Stone’s partnership with AMC and the Youth Opportunities Program, the students are housed at different camp sites, and food is provided while they are on the trip. The requirement for the trips is that students must disconnect, leave their electronics and social media networks at home and dig into the great outdoors.
“In the past five years at least 100 students have been able to participate, about 10 students on each trip” said Stone. Students are required to apply and then are chosen based on academic standing and whether their teachers feel like they would benefit from the experience, among other things. “With each trip the waiting list continues to grow. We are actively trying to make the capacity larger by having more staff members chaperone and figuring out a better transportation system,” explained Stone.
As the program’s popularity has continued to grow, so has the demand for gear. “The AMC has been great about providing Common Ground and the adventure club with gear specific to whatever activity we are doing with the students,” Stone explained. “We have also been fortunate enough to partner up with the local outdoor store Trail Blazer, who have been beyond charitable with the gear they have given us.”
The desire to offer an outdoor program that disconnects teenagers from the day-to-day use of electronics and social media has spread beyond Common Ground to other local New Haven schools and youth programs. “Now, Common Ground acts as a hub to recruit other New Haven Programs to get their staff and students involved. Our gear locker is a big draw, so is our partnership and grant funding for trainings.” Organizations now include Solar Youth, High School in the Community, Highville Academy, and Evolutions at the Peabody.
This past weekend students and Stone, along with Common Ground staff member Sarah Tracy-Wanck, loaded up two cars and drove to the White Mountains in New Hampshire for a three day excursion filled with snowshoeing and cross country skiing. For many of the students it was their first experience with snow sports, but that didn’t stop them from excelling. “Students wanted to go faster, and further. They were racing down hills, falling- just having an amazing time,” said Tracy-Wanck.
The next trip the adventure club will take is scheduled for February, students will once again get to enjoy winter activities, with a weekend filled with cross country skiing. Stone is sure that the waiting list will continue to grow, as more students become interested in the opportunities. “Students walk away from these trips discovering astonishment, awe, and a lifelong commitment to nature. I and other staff notice a stronger connection to their peers and more engagement in the classroom,” explained Stone. With results like that Adventure Club shows no signs of stopping.