West Park offers first ever Outdoor Activities class

Isabelle Valerio, Class of 2023

West Park is the first school in the district to offer Outdoor Activities, a class where students can learn about skills related to outdoor activities such as camping. With a new class being offered for the first time in the district, students have signed up for the class to see what it is like, but not many know it exists or what it entails.

“Students must have completed PE 9 and PE 10 before they take Outdoor Activities in their junior or senior year,” Outdoor Activities teacher Ms. Stockman says on signing up for the class.

Currently, the class roughly has around 125 students enrolled compared to the much larger amount of students in PE 9 and PE 10, where students are required to take it to graduate.

There are a few differences between Outdoor Activities and the PE classes, such as the activities learned in class.

“In regular PE the students are learning activities that are sports related and how to efficiently move their bodies while participating in each sport,” Stockman says. “In Outdoor Activities the students get to participate and learn skills that they would need to know when outdoors like fishing, hiking, camping, backpacking, outdoor cooking, and archery.”

The skills learned in this class also differ from the skills learned in PE.

“Students will develop the knowledge and skills to participate in outdoor activities with an emphasis on personal safety, environmental responsibility, and excursion planning and leadership,” Stockman says. “Students will use hands-on and conceptual activities to demonstrate proficiency… They will participate in a variety of outdoor activities to develop experience and hands-on capacity in relevant skills.”

Unlike the PE classes in West Park, students in Outdoor Activities learn basic survival skills that can be used in the real world.

“Students will analyze human needs for survival in the wilderness,” Stockman says, “such as mindset, clothing choice, building temporary shelter, fire ignition, water procurement and purification, food gathering, outdoor cooking, navigation, and basic first aid.”

However, students in Outdoor Activities seem to have different sentiments about taking it.

“We just like do fishing and go on hikes and stuff,” senior Alexander Williams says, “but we primarily do nothing and spend most of our time playing dodgeball and relax.”

His personal experiences reflect on how he feels about the class as one of the 125 students taking it. He recalls dodgeballs being hurled inside the gym and the activities he had done over the past year.

“It’s a pretty lackluster experience,” he admits. “Like if you’re into that stuff, you’re into that stuff, but if you’re not, then it’s not really worth taking the class.”

Students looking to hone their survival skills in real life situations can join programs such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. In outdoor activities, Boy Scouts are given survival gear and are given safety guidelines when something goes wrong. Girl Scouts are exposed to programs dedicated to outdoor training and learn new skills such as tying different types of knots and reading a topographical map.

Spending our time outdoors not only hones our survival skills, but it also promotes an active and healthy lifestyle. Our proximity to nature is shown to increase life expectancy, improve sleep quality, and reduce cancer risk.

“Many of the benefits afforded to us by green spaces partially results from more opportunities to be active,” research social scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Michelle Kondo says. “Being in outdoor green spaces can increase a person’s motivation, too.”

Studies have also shown that being outdoors reduces our stress and cortisol levels, muscle tension, and heart rates—therefore reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease.

“Since scientists have gained access to data sets, sometimes capturing an entire country’s population of medical records and hospital data, we are finding that patient diagnoses and chronic illness risk are often related to where an individual lives and their proximity to green spaces,” Kondo says.

Spending time outdoors also improves our mental health by lowering the risk of depression and faster psychological recovery. In one experiment, two groups performed a mentally strenuous task like taking a math test. One group took a break near a park while the other took a break on a busy intersection. The first group showed an increased focus and higher levels of concentration as a result.

The outdoors also gives us an opportunity to connect with our friends, family, and community, which is an important major component to our mental health.

“This togetherness is especially important to us now,” Kondo says. “We are finding that isolation is a killer, and that the outdoors really provides that space for us to come together under trees or to walk together along trails.”

Taking Outdoor Activities can help students learn essential survival skills while also improving their physical and mental health. Joining programs can also broaden their experiences and hone them even further.

“All of the survival skills learned in this class are skills that students can use for a lifetime while exploring the great outdoors and what it has to offer,” Stockman says.