Helping Disadvantaged Youth See the Stars

Article excerpt

Instead of putting computers in our elementary school classrooms, we should take children into nature, away from those virtual worlds in which they spend unconscionable hours.... Let them know that nothing ... they will find in the virtual worlds of GameBoy or the Internet matters half so much as the step into the air of a great blue heron, rising into the morning mists on Gabriel wings, conferring on the marsh, the morning, the watcher, a dignity, a blessedness that confounds the dull humdrum of the commonplace an opens a window to infinity. -- Chet Raymo

In the tradition of John Muir (who "kidnapped" President Teddy Roosevelt to take him into the Yosemite backcountry) and David Brower (who led hundreds of city dwellers on Sierra Club wilderness trips in the 1940s), Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT) was created as a way to open doors to the natural world and spark the imaginations of hundreds of young adults who otherwise might never experience the wonder of wildness.

Since BAWT became an Earth Island Institute project in April 1999, it has taught wilderness leadership skills to 63 teachers and youth services workers who have gone on to lead more than 400 young people on wilderness trips.

These young adults -- ranging from inner-city residents and previously incarcerated teens to migrant farmworkers from California's Central Valley -- all shared the experience of walking through a forest, sleeping in a tent, and seeing the Milky Way -- some for the first time in their lives. …