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Outdoor Summer School

By Julie Broch

For most, being in summer school means staying inside classrooms and working on assignments. However, a group of Minneapolis high school students were able to experience something different this year.

Through a joint program between Wilderness Inquiry, Adventures in the City, and Minneapolis Public Schools, students were given the chance to make up some of the credits they needed while exploring nearby parks, lakes, and rivers.

One of those students, Alexis Luna, noted that he would not consider himself an outdoors person, but enjoyed the program where he’s gotten to explore and learn new things. “They make learning fun,” he said. “It’s not just like you gotta sit in a classroom all day listening to a teacher talk. You get to go outside, you get to have fun and you earn credits at the same time.”

Adventures in the City is only one of the many programs run by Wilderness Inquiry, which is a nonprofit organization founded in the ’70s to increase the accessibility of the outdoors to people of all abilities, ages, and backgrounds. This program was inspired after a senator doubted that women, children, and disabled people could explore the outdoors on their own. The founder, Greg Lais, thus began taking trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with people with disabilities.

He explained, “I never thought that I would keep doing this 41 years later, but it was such a powerful experience for me and for everyone on the trip,” Lais said. “It really was a transformative thing and it changed our world view.”

Wilderness Inquiry has now taken more than 500,000 people on outdoor adventures from local sites to countries all around the world.

However, lots of work is done locally as well. Lais states that “I think of us as a kind of a cabin culture of going up north, but for a lot of new Minnesotans, for a lot of people who are here now, they didn’t get that or they’re not exposed to that. What we need to do is figure out how do we meet them where they’re at and engage them in the wonderful outdoor resources of Minnesota.”

Courtney Antone is a Minneapolis high-school English teacher who also works for Wilderness Inquiry and the leader of the Adventures in the City program this summer. 

“Every year the same thing happens,” Antone said. “On the first day, you can tell they’re not very excited to be in summer school.” But once students realize they aren’t sitting and doing work all day, their attitudes improve. 

“Even on the first day you just see facial expressions and the attitude of every student just brightens up.”

Lais hopes for reactions like those of the students on all Wilderness Inquiry trips and hopes they can reach more people like Luna many years into the future.

About Julie Broch

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