November 6, 2014

Camping and Community Building

by Abigail Plummer ‘15 and Jasmine McAdams ‘16

The Outdoor Leadership Environmental Education Program (OLEEP) is a partnership between Brown University and the MET High School that started in 1997. Through small group mentoring, weekly environmental science workshops in the school and community, and camping and backpacking trips, the program works to develop leadership skills and a community in which Brown and MET students can learn from each other.

It might not seem obvious how all the pieces of OLEEP fit together. Camping and science, mentorship and the environment—none of these pairings are particularly common. However, each is a vital piece of the work we do in OLEEP.

Recognizing the opportunities for social justice within the environmental movement, OLEEP is passionate about empowering students by expanding their access to science and outdoor experiences. Having recently returned from the annual fall camping trip, we had a great opportunity to reflect upon OLEEP’s role in environmental education, and the importance of outdoor experiences that provide students the chance to work on leadership skills and learn about the natural world. OLEEP’s mission to provide environmental science education is contingent on having outdoor experiences that make environmental issues more tangible and allow individuals to critically observe their local environment.

On October 18th, one of the last days of the year that you can reliably count on to have reasonably warm weather, 13 OLEEP mentors and 10 MET students departed from the MET and set out for George Washington State Campground in Chepachet, RI. The scenery of the campground included displays of spectacular fall foliage, stunning lake sunsets and a calm atmosphere - the perfect occasion to enjoy time away from Providence’s busy setting. Beyond the benefits of getting some fresh air in the outdoors, the camping trips are intended to create strong relationships within the OLEEP community. We played many games throughout the trip, and included some silly rounds of tag to stay active and warm. Despite a surprising and brief rainstorm that caused us to all scramble to keep ourselves and our gear dry, spirits never dampened and only livened throughout the evening. Everyone pitched in to help make delicious camp-style burritos and persevered to build a stubborn fire that was the centerpiece for s'mores and a spirited game of Mafia. The energy was still high in the early morning when we awoke, and we ended our quick outing with a short hike and more games before cleaning camp and heading back to the MET.

The camping trip reiterated that mentorship is the glue that holds OLEEP together. A cohesive community is the foundation of OLEEP. Since the camping trip, there has been a noticeable and positive shift in the workshop atmosphere, and we are more excited every week to build strong relationships through mentoring, workshops and fieldtrips, and are looking forward to discovering how the OLEEP community can be a source of empowerment for the MET students and Brown students alike.

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