The Wilderness Arts And Literacy Collaborative

WALC is an interdisciplinary academic program that utilizes an environmental framework, core field experiences, and stewardship activities to integrate science, history, literature, writing, and art within a curriculum that focuses on the experiences of people of color. Environmental education and ecological principles intertwine with ethnic studies and social justice principles, while field experiences such as hiking, camping, and habitat restoration provide the foundation for a challenging academic curriculum.

WALC was created to serve the at-risk, inner-city students of color who come to Downtown High School underserved and disenfranchised, with a history of academic failure. As teachers, we are faced with the formidable task of delivering an educational program that provides the rigor necessary to enable our specific student population to catch up on academic skills, while also providing the content they need to effectively navigate and influence the world in which they live. Such a program further requires that we motivate struggling students to complete challenging academic tasks, while also equipping them with tools to help them process and understand the curriculum. WALC’s multiude of real-world field studies, within thematic units that emphasize ethnic experience, provides a conceptual and experiential edge that can facilitate the academic success of students who are facing their last chance to succeed in school.

WALC’s primary goals are:

1) To increase student achievement by providing an alternative, relevant, experiential, and academically rigorous education.

2) To facilitate students’ examination of their own connections to the environment and environmental issues by using outdoor experiences as a springboard.

3) To assist our students in becoming successful scholars and healthy human beings by addressing their personal as well as academic needs.

4) To involve more people of color and working class people in addressing the environmental issues that have a disproportionate effect on their lives by facilitating student participation in environmental stewardship activities and community activism.

WALC works to achieve these goals with corresponding pedagogical principles.

1) Integration: Environmental education and outdoor experiences provide an integrating framework for teaching academic subjects and academic skills. Curriculum is based on the belief that every theme we teach our students about nature, they can apply to themselves and to the historical and current experiences of their diverse communities. Within the context of physical places and natural processes that can be experienced and felt, as well as through ethnic studies content that relates to their lives, students are able to understand the relevance of their learning and are therefore motivated to achieve greater academic success.

2) Access: Exposing students to wilderness areas they have never before experienced can alter their world-views, helping them expand their own sense of place and understand that nature is a part of their world—theirs to visit, get to know, and care for. After visiting and interacting with natural areas, students develop a relationship with earth and land, and are subsequently more interested in environmental subject matter, lessons, issues and stewardship.

3) Balance: Outdoor experiences and hands-on activities allow students to learn and achieve in a variety of ways. Firsthand wilderness experiences particularly address students’ needs to learn affectively as well as cognitively and to learn about themselves as well as about the subject matter. The centrality of art and writing facilitates reflection, creativity, and self-expression. The interpersonal team emphasis in WALC further considers the whole student by allowing teachers and students to know each other deeply and support one another personally as well as academically.

4) Activism: Awareness and understanding of the environment instills a sense of responsibility within students to positively affect their immediate environments—where they live, work, and learn—as well as wilderness environments. WALC curriculum includes ongoing stewardship activities, as well as being designed to help students effectively articulate their concerns about the environment and organize actual projects to address these issues.