This winter, kindergarten and first graders at Riverstone International School are learning to ice skate; second and third graders are trying out Nordic skiing; fifth graders are learning about ecosystems and adaptations at an outdoor science school. Older students are camping in snow caves and hiking through the Sawtooth Mountains. That’s because Riverstone’s Outdoor Education Program includes everything from elementary school overnighters to remote week-long high school backpacking excursions.
For the younger students, the goal is to ensure they feel safe and have fun in the outdoors, says Program Director Ben Brock. Trips are shorter, closer to home, and include a variety of disciplines and environments. Middle and high schoolers gradually gain more independence and confidence in increasingly demanding situations. By high school, they will have navigated a five-day desert backpacking trip without trails to follow. The saying goes that every blister, lost piece of equipment, or unexpected storm becomes part of the journey.
As the years progress, students develop both a relationship with the environment and an environmental ethic. “These experiences,” says 2014 graduate Tristan Rericha, “have given me a great appreciation for the environment as well as time spent with friends without technology. They helped build my teamwork, leadership, and organizational skills, and let me better get to know people from the school and my class.”
Initially, many parents and students were apprehensive about the program’s scope. Today, it’s enthusiastically embraced as one of Five Pillars that form the foundation of Riverstone’s educational philosophy. “Few activities,” says Mr. Brock, “can bring groups of people together as meaningfully as time in the outdoors.”