Students trek beyond classrooms and desks
For 40 days, a half-dozen high school freshmen from the North Shore and Truckee will be pushed physically and mentally as they venture into the wilderness for an intense lesson on leadership and language.The Adventure, Risk and Challenge program (ARC), now in its third year, will bring together English language learners for a backcountry academic program that both leaders and participants say pushes students to excel at school and beyond.By selecting a small number of students and giving them a really intensive experience, they can take what theyve learned and come back to the community as leaders, said Katie Zanto, program founder and Kings Beach resident. Weve seen up to an 18 percent improvement on their test scores; our kids are more likely to get involved with sports, and after the program, they are required to volunteer.The program, which organizers hope to expand to other locations in California, has its homebase at UC Berkeleys Sagehen Creek Field Station just north of Truckee. The station provides a location for the program and brings in researchers to teach the students about the environment.The six-week course is split between stays at the field station, where students focus on an curriculum of grammar, exam preparation, writing, public speaking, reading, vocabulary, science research and interviewing skills.After a few days of lessons, the program shifts gears and participants push their limits on multi-day backpacking trips, days of kayaking and climbing, and a confidence-building stint at a ropes course. I changed there, said Tonya Cabrera, a sophomore at Tahoe Truckee High School who was an ARC participant in 2005 and is now helping to plan and fundraise for this years group. I learned how to cook. I learned to speak more English, and I also learned how to challenge myself to do things that are more risky. As a culmination, the group publishes a book of student-written essays and bilingual interpretive signs for the Sagehen field station.They are making a big commitment to themselves and their future, said course director Jennifer Gurecki. We want to foster responsibility and pride, and working for something you want.And the programs impact shows. Three years after the original ARC group set out into the backcountry, those students are still in contact with their leaders and one another and are volunteering in the community.Most of the Hispanic community doesnt get to have this kind of experience. Its not just for fun; it changes you, Cabrera said. I had never been away from home before. My mom was kind of scared, but now she feels proud. She is impressed with my confidence.