For the past few months, we here at PEMBA have been looking at Opportunities for #OIBIZ, and we’ll continue to do so for awhile longer. Today’s guest post is by Brad’s wife Vera Naputi, a teacher with long experience in getting her students – and her own children – outdoors. Several weeks ago we heard from Jeff Weidman about the Big City Mountaineers programs. Vera’s approach is a bit more grassroots and direct, and accessible for most of us: Find a kid nearby who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to go, and take them outside; not just once, but often. Here’s why and how she does it.
For my kids, ages 6, 7, and 15 years, getting outdoors is as natural as sleeping. It doesn’t take much to get them outside especially when their preferred outdoor activity is playing in the local park. For the students I teach, ages 12-13 years, they also report that playing in the park is their favorite way to get outdoors. That is, when they’re not watching TV, playing video games, sleeping, or texting. This isn’t surprising, but their realities should be the springboard for coming up with a real solution that can be implemented immediately – by you, and by me.
I interviewed my students (some self-described as “lazy, addicted, sleep-deprived”) and got straight to the point: What would it take to play outdoors more often?
In a follow-up class discussion, my students first cited the problems. They reported that their neighborhood isn’t safe. Their parents (particularly, their mothers) prevent them from going outside. And when they are allowed, they are restricted to the north end of the basketball courts. This is because the other end is typically where “drug dealers hang out.” Another factor is that crossing the street is both a hassle and a hazard: “I have to cross two busy streets in order to get there, and I have to take my little brother and cousin with me. It’s dangerous.” Research regarding safe play spaces have been on-going since the 1970’s – my students anecdotal realities should not be surprising.
Still, their personal accounts seemed to innocently reach out to me, as if to ask: “Will you take me outside to play?”
I am often pre-occupied with some of the interesting variables that have an effect on young adolescents quality of life. Aside from neighborhood play places, I think a lot about internet and electronic addictions, intense family problems, and children’s changing roles within their families. I deeply believe that recreation and access should not just be about crime prevention and resiliency, but primarily about quality and sustainability.
It disturbs me that for my students, access to getting outdoors is defined by a school-related field trip where the bus costs $300, and they have to pay to go. Memorable? Most likely. Accessible and sustainable? We all know the answer is no, and we who are already stewards of the Get Outdoors campaign should feel uneasy about this, because it’s a real problem.
Students like mine need alternatives in order to create new habits and form healthy attitudes about living a quality life. They need a real person to help them get outdoors, for real.
At the end of our class discussion, I asked them a final question: Given the opportunity, what would you want to do outdoors if you could?
One kid’s response: “You mean, if you could take me, Ms. Naputi?”
Followed by: Rock climbing or rafting or hiking or back to Devil’s Lake so we can hang out together in clean water. (Sigh. Another issue, another time . . . )
It goes back to the heart of what I believe my students wanted to ask of me: “Will you take me outside to play?”
I know there are great programs, initiatives, and a general call to action for getting kids outdoors. These are necessary in order to provide our youth with options and opportunities to realize their potential, which so many have. For my students though, they need the basics. They need one individual to get them outdoors. Perhaps just one time a month. Maybe just for one season. Whatever it takes to create new habits, new attitudes, a new belief system.
I have 42 of them, and I’m recruiting.
Vera Naputi is a proud Chamorro dedicated to family, recreation, books, and teaching. She and her teaching partners at Sherman Middle School are taking all 42 kids to New Orleans this May for a Service Learning Project, which they funded through grants, fund-raising events, and selling candy. She is a big fan of her mom and dad, Wallace Stegner, Toni Morrison, and Brad Werntz. She makes time for Happy Hour, catching up on podcasts, and running to good music. Vera believes that people are inherently good.