In this horrific, flags flying constantly at half-mast society of today, there is a program at UC Berkeley/UC Merced that strives to make a difference. They won’t make news headlines but they are changing lives — one backpacker at a time. Adventure Risk Challenge
Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) annually recruits 24 to 36 California high school students on summer break and challenges each one with an adventure: backpack into the wilderness of Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for 8-10 days. Along the way, they take risks and get in touch with their inner selves, all while learning literacy and leadership skills to become the best they can be.
Since 2004, ARC’s mission has been to empower underserved youth through integrated literacy and wilderness experiences. ARC melds English, environmental science, social justice, and leadership in a curriculum linked to California State Standards, teamwork, research, and public speaking.
Summer Literacy and Leadership Course
For tuition of a dollar a day or even no cost for underprivileged, deserving high school students learn valuable social skills and increase their self-esteem during this summer course. They are transformed by a life-changing backpacking trip. Although some have visited the Sierra Nevada, these are not your typical wilderness users.
These students, who come from homes where families live paycheck to paycheck, there is little hope to succeed. ARC participants are chosen exclusively from California’s Central Valley. These students are inspired to become lifelong learners, stewards of the environment, and leaders in their schools and community.
Once enrolled in ARC, the mentoring continues after the summer immersion. There is a proven track record of success. 92 percent pass the Language Arts section of the California High School Exit Exam, versus 42 percent for English Language Learner students and 72 percent for socio-economically disadvantaged students. And there is a 77 percent enrollment in college, compared to 36 percent nationwide for Latinos and 46 percent for Anglos.
ARC’s factors are associated with students who stay in school and avoid drug and alcohol use, as well as teen pregnancy. Each year, ARC participants also complete hundreds of hours of community service.
Kaweah Country connection
At the end of their summer immersion, students are required to produce an essay and recite their “poem” in a public performance. One of the three 2019 sessions that recently concluded a summer course in Sequoia National Park completed the session with a program at St. Anthony Retreat in Three Rivers on Thursday, July 18.
The outcome of the Three Rivers performance is a three-part video series that furnishes a gut-wrenching glimpse into the lives of so many Californians, totally foreign to what most perceive to be mainstream America.
Part 1 presents an introduction to ARC by its director, Sarah Ottley. Sarah’s opening remarks are followed by the student’s poems.
Part 2 furnishes interviews with staff and student participants.
Part 3 is dialogue with Sarah Ottley telling how ARC has changed her life and how the public can also become engaged.