An Opportunity for Outdoor Adventure: NatureBridge in Yosemite

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In 1989, a colleague of The McConnell Foundation’s President, Lee Salter mentioned to him an outdoor education program he thought the Foundation should get involved with. It turned out to be an excellent recommendation … 25 years later North State students are still participating in NatureBridge at Yosemite. NatureBridge is a nonprofit organization that welcomes more than 700 schools and 30,000 students and teachers annually to its six campuses, providing hands-on environmental science education programs for youth and teens. Its programs take place outdoors, in the magnificence of nature’s classrooms, where students are immersed in the wonder and beauty of national parks.

For the North State, The McConnell Foundation partners with public and charter high schools in Shasta, Siskiyou, Trinity, Tehama, Modoc and Lassen counties to send as many as 140 students each year to participate in the program in Yosemite National Park. Each spring students and school chaperones spend a week in the park exploring nature and science first-hand while building academic, social and emotional skills.

The application requirements for participating in the Yosemite program are simple. Applications are accepted from students of all academic levels who are first time participants and are in their sophomore or junior year at a public high school, continuation school, alternative school or public charter school located in the counties served. Applicants must be responsible, reliable, trustworthy and comfortable being part of a group; and need to be physically able to participate in a variety of outdoor activities, from strenuous hikes to leisurely walks.

The NatureBridge at Yosemite Program is a school-sponsored field trip. As such, applications are reviewed and students are selected through Yosemite Advisors at participating high schools. The “cost” of the program for students who are selected is eight hours of community service related to the environment. The McConnell Foundation pays tuition, coordinates transportation, and arranges for school chaperones to participate along with students.

Here’s what some students have said about the program in an anonymous survey:

  • It was definitely more than I would have learned in a classroom and made me think about my career.
  • Getting the opportunity to see Yosemite for the first time, not as a typical tourist, but as a student on a guided trip, learning along the way, was truly a gift that I will never forget!  Great memories, students, chaperones, instructors, facilities, and program!
  • I learned to do things I’m not comfortable doing. At Yosemite I learned that facing my fears is good.
  • At first I didn’t really want to go because I didn’t think it would be fun. My mom convinced me to go and I can’t thank her enough. This was the most fun, best, life-changing experience of my entire life. Thank you so much for the amazing experience. Keep changing people’s lives!!
  • The experience made me want to spend less time procrastinating on the Internet and spend more time outdoors.
  • I loved the way the chaperones always taught us things by using fun activities and games, and that there was rarely any time where we were sitting and listening to a lecture. The lessons were always fun and often funny.
  • The worst part of the program would probably be having to say goodbye to everyone. I did not want to leave. Most of us are keeping in touch though, and are probably going to get back together this summer for a reunion. I have no complaints about this trip, it was perfect. I just wish I could go back!

To apply, visit the Foundation’s web site for application information at http://www.mcconnellfoundation.org. 

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About Ana Bachman

Ana Bachman is The McConnell Foundation’s program coordinator and has overseen the Yosemite Program since 2005. Her passion for the program comes from seeing the transformation in students that a week in Yosemite makes.

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