Youth making pizza from ingredients they harvested
One day last week we walked into Summit Prep, a charter school and one of our Youth Development partners. We knew that there would be swarms of 9th, 10th and 12th graders rushing in to find out about coming out to the ranch for one of our month-long social and environmental justice and sustainability programs: “From Forest to Farm to Food”. Lugging a projector, lap top and screen up the steps to sign in at the front desk, I was suddenly bowled over by a loud, “Sam!” I turned to find a student from last year’s program looking completely astonished to see me. “What are you doing here?! Hi!! Is Bill here? What are you doing?” Questions and comments poured out of her and I found that I was just as happy to see her too. This feeling only grew as the bell rang and students filled the halls, more familiar faces from last year joining our growing crowd. “Whaaat?? Sweet, this totally makes my day,” another remarked, his tone the usual I’ve-just-woken-up drawl, “Oh man, that’s so cool you guys are here.” Two other students from last year’s group ran up for hugs and hollered “we love coming out now and volunteering with the animals and weekend programs for kids.” At times like this it is so clear why we do the work we do with youth.
We deeply admire the many classroom teachers and other YD providers with whom we collaborate daily. These are amazing folks who have dedicated a large portion of their lives and energy to helping change youth trajectories to positive directions. The daily work that many of them have in the classrooms and programs of planning and delivering the coursework and keeping 30-35 teens interested and moving towards their goals is quite a task!
So this is where we in the Youth Development Department at Hidden Villa come in. Our staff, farm, and wilderness are incredible resources for leveling the learning playing field by giving youth hands-on experiences outside their usual environment . Watching the eyes of a youth for the first time who is holding a banana slug or a newborn lamb or making soup from harvested organic vegetables is something that everyone should be able to witness. We are finding that creativity is also one of our biggest assets. As we build up our core programming and extend the network of schools and youth organizations we partner with, we are doing so with the express goal of being flexible enough to meet students, teachers, and classrooms at the level they need. But what does that actually look like?
It can sometimes take the form of tailored curriculum, like last week’s programs with Environmental Science classes on California biomes, Natural Resources and Carbon and Nitrogen cycles. These International Baccalaureate level classes from Sequoia High are learning about the complex interplay of biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) factors that make life on earth possible. As their teacher wrote to us after:
"Thank you so much for the amazing trip last Friday! The kids have been buzzing about it all day. Please send my thanks to Samantha and Spring. I wanted to look into bringing the Health Careers Academy (HCA) students for an overnight trip in the spring. The academy focuses on wellness and is a pre professional program for kids who want to go into health. Most of the kids will be the first in their families to graduate high school and go to college."
At other times our adaptability takes on a different form, and we seek direction from the students themselves. Each year we work with the Redwood Environmental Academy of Leadership (REAL) at Redwood High to provide retreats and workshops to empower student leadership and teach valuable life skills to these underserved youth. This begins each September with our first in-class program, one that always finishes with the same activity. We ask them to anonymously write down a goal for themselves for the year. “Where do you want to be in May and what do you want to have gained by then?” is our prompt, with no caveat that it be about grades or even school. They write such goals as: “To be more direct and honest to people’s faces” and “To graduate and be able to go on to nursing school” and “To be nicer to my Mom”. As the bell rings and each person heads outside, they leave these pieces of paper on a big sheet by the door, everyone’s hopes gathered in one place. It is not just a demonstration …we use these notes to focus all of our later workshops with these students, their input directing the kind of hands-on activities and support we offer throughout the year.
Program participants relaxing in the sun!