By Jonathan Olivier | LSU Student
Some Baton Rouge students are leaving behind the cluttered confines of urban sprawl and immersing themselves in nature.
An outdoor outreach program, called BREC Out, offers at-risk youth in East Baton Rouge Parish schools that may need help academically the chance to participate in outdoor-oriented team building activities in class and on field trips.
BREC Outdoor Program Coordinator Erin Sullivan began BREC Out in August and said the program is meant to act as an incentive for students to perform better inside the classroom, while introducing them to nature.
"The program is reward based and you only go on trips if you participate in team building activities and behavior is good," she said. "It gives them something to look forward to and something to work for."
BREC Recreation Manager Ryan Reed agreed students are showing signs of improving in school, but also underscored the impact that being close to nature can have.
"Last weekend we did a camp out and a kid caught his first fish ever," he said. "One said, ‘I never knew there were this many stars in the sky.'"
BREC Out serves three high schools, two middle schools and one elementary school and is designed to incite civic mindedness and environmental stewardship, Sullivan said.
"We go to schools on a weekly or monthly basis during the school year with some of those visits being outdoor excursions," she said. "We want to introduce these students to ideas and connect them with activities they might not normally have a chance to interact with."
Reed helps Sullivan manage curriculum and activities at school visits, ranging from volleyball to soccer, but they mainly focus on teaching wilderness skills, kayaking, fishing and other outdoor-oriented applications.
The program was once controlled by Louisiana State Parks, but transferred to BREC because it had more resources to organize activities, Sullivan said.
Sullivan, once a state park employee herself, recognized the potential the program could have with BREC.
"Whenever I was at state parks, I developed a partnership with BREC. We were only bringing them to state parks once a year and BREC could serve the students in the outdoor outreach program better."
The transition to BREC has been well received and Louisiana's state parks have an integral and strong relationship with the program, she said.
BREC Out is open to public and charter schools, as well as corporate and non-profit organizations interested in participating in outdoor recreational workshops.
Sullivan said she is looking for more participants in the program as well as sponsors. The contact for those interested is ESullivan@brec.org.