New National Park Service Program Introduces High School Girls to the Outdoors and Camping

Los Angeles Unified School District will provide bus transportation from South Los Angeles and Valley schools

A new National Park Service (NPS) pilot initiative will introduce almost 35 girls attending Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) high schools to the outdoors and camping for their first time.

The pilot program, called “Girls Outside,” is funded by the National Park Foundation with in-kind support from the LAUSD Beyond the Bell Expanded Learning and Enrichment Programs Branch.

It consists of two 3-day camping trips at the Circle X Ranch group campground in the western Santa Monica Mountains, a site managed by Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA).

“The National Park Foundation’s ParkVentures program helps people create and strengthen life-long relationships with national parks,” said Lisa McClure, Senior Program Manager. “The Foundation is investing in leaders and organizations who are removing barriers and bringing people together for joy-filled and meaningful experiences outdoors.  

The two trips will host up to 20 high school girls each participating in various outdoor activities in a remote area of the Santa Monica Mountains. LAUSD’s Beyond the Bell High School Unit and the Office of Outdoor & Environmental Education will provide transportation from South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

“We hope the campouts will inspire these adventurous young women to become future stewards of their public lands,” said David Szymanski, superintendent of SMMNRA. “Participants will not only get a chance to camp outdoors, but they will also receive mentorship from local women leaders in conservation.”

Participation is free, and transportation and food will be provided at no cost to the participants. Transportation for a day trip to visit the tide pools at Leo Carrillo State Beach will also be provided by LAUSD. Site coordinators from LAUSD after school programs recruited “Take Action Campaign” (TAC) Program participants from John C. Fremont High School, Diego Rivera Learning Complex, Esteban Torres High School, John H. Francis Polytechnic High School, John F. Kennedy High School, James Monroe High School, and Ulysses S. Grant High School.

The TAC program’s objective is to develop high school students’ leadership/goal setting capacity while cultivating their communication, community building and team building skills.

“More than ever, kids need these experiences to restore their personal balance in a manner that only the natural world can provide,” said Gerardo Salazar, administrator for the Office of Outdoor and Environmental Education for LAUSD. “After all, they won’t miss or rely on a world they have never experienced.”

The Santa Monica Mountains Fund (SMMF), the park’s official non-profit partner, supported the effort by hiring two trip leaders that will lead each camping trip. Trip leaders will lead and facilitate group activities that engage participants in dialogue, introspection, and group bonding. There will be opportunities for leadership development through activity-based learning.

In addition to learning basic camping, hiking, and outdoor principles from the trip leaders, the young women will participate in a short, 3-mile hike. They will become educated about the natural and cultural resources of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Szymanski, the park superintendent, says the goal is to build on the pilot Girls Outside initiative and make it a permanent program at SMMNRA.

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