When Jeff Belk started an outdoor education class at Rogers High School, he said he saw a need to connect students with the outdoors.
Within two years, 300 students a year were signing up for the course, which dueled as a partial physical education and science course. Today, Belk said more than 5,000 students have gone through outdoor education at Rogers.
“It’s a life changing class,” Belk said. “The knowledge you learn here you can really use for the rest of your life.”
This year, Fayetteville High School is joining the ranks of public schools following in Belk’s footsteps. About 20 students from two P.E. and science classes will learn from outdoor educators at the Pack Rat Outdoor Center, attend field trips and hear from community members throughout the semester as part of their class curriculum.
On the first field trip of the year Wednesday, students toured three different outdoor educational workshops hosted at the Pack Rat. Students learned how to make their food on backpacking trips, read topographical maps and practiced rock climbing.
Because of the involvement of local outdoor relaters, such as Pack Rat, Belk said he thought Fayetteville will have the most help of any outdoor education class established in the state so far.
“It’s great to see outdoor professionals step up to help kids better their lives through the outdoors,” Belk said, who also recently co-founded Outdoor CARE, a nonprofit dedicated to implementing outdoor education in schools, as well as providing guided trips and outdoor education to youth groups and individuals.
The course will be a great opportunity for students to connect knowledge of nature and the environment with physical education, said Jeb Huckeba, Fayetteville outdoor education teacher and assistant football coach.
“This is attractive to students because it gets them outside of the classroom,” Huckeba said. “It gives them the opportunity to get interested in the outdoors. I think it will ultimately create better citizens who are in better shape, and with more knowledge about the environment.”
Pack Rat community coordinator Ali Williams said the company will continue to work with the students throughout the semester, and the next excursion will be a rock climbing field trip led by Pack Rat staff.
“I’m incredibly excited for all of it,” Williams said. “I started experiencing (the outdoors) when I was 18 or 19 years old and it completely shifted my life. I went from owning my first pair of Chacos to being able to do a 10-day backpacking trip and love it. I feel like it makes all the difference in a kid’s life to be able to have this opportunity.”