Students at Beechwood School are preparing for upcoming educational excursions; a part of the school’s recently  integrated outdoor education program.

Beechwood, a private, non-profit school located in Menlo Park, is giving students a chance to explore nature and adventure away from their usual surroundings.

The school consists of more than 100 low-income families from East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. K-8 students, as well as parents who wish to go, are given the opportunity to go hiking, camping and kayaking in places like Yosemite, Angel Island and Big Basin, or even Seattle, San Diego and Lake Tahoe.

“The idea is to take kids who might not otherwise have the opportunity to do these kinds of things outdoors and expose them and their parents, who come along on the trips, to [nature],” Melinda Christopherson, finance manager and development director of the California Family Foundation, a funder of Beechwood, said in an interview with Palo Alto online.

On trips, students not only learn about plant life and animals, but also prepare for the trip on their own, thus teaching them about responsibility as well

At the same time, students are able to bond with one another while working in groups to set up tents and sleeping areas, or cook and clean breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

“[The trip] let me get away from my family and explore something on my own, especially the camping part,” Lala, a Beechwood student, said in an interview with Palo Alto online. “My friends had to help me roll up my sleeping bag and figure everything out, but we got through it together, so it really built a sense of community for me.”

The program’s trips also allow for many students to explore the outdoors. As a class, students experience an unfamiliar environment together for the first time.[pullquote speaker=”Brooklyn Willis” photo=”” align=”left” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]When you spend all day in a classroom, you lose touch with nature. It’s an important skill to be able to really let go of everyday stresses and just focus on being at peace with nature.[/pullquote]

The trips offered by Beechwood’s outdoor education program are similar to the Yosemite and Foothills camping trips Palo Alto High School’s TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) members go on and experience similar benefits, according to Paly senior Brooklyn Willis, a past TEAM student and current TEAM senior leader.

“Students learn about the importance of connecting with nature,” Willis said. “When you spend all day every day in a classroom, you lose touch with nature. It’s an important skill to be able to really let go of everyday stresses and just focus on being at peace with nature.”

Although Willis believes that TEAM trips should be kept separate from school, she still believes that camping trips and outdoor excursions that are similar to those at Beechwood should be offered to more students at Paly.

“I think that there should definitely be trips for students outside of TEAM offered,” Willis said. “It’s fun to get out of the classroom and school, but still be with your friends and classmates.”

With its new outdoor education program, Beechwood School is creating a new standard for school curriculums and setting an example for other schools to follow.

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