Alma Busby-Williams: Why I Support Outdoor Education as a Mother

Enjoy this post written by Alma Busby-Williams, the Institute's Director of Inclusion and Community Partnerships

My name is Alma. I am a daughter. I’m a friend. I am a cancer survivor.  I’m a hiker. I am a consultant. I’m a kayaker. And I am the new Director of Inclusion and Community Partnerships at North Cascades Institute.

And, perhaps most importantly, I am a mother. 

As a mother, I cannot stress enough the importance of environmental education and outdoor programs in a child’s life. In my child’s life, and maybe in yours. 

My son Chris excelled in school academically. Yet I received constant calls from his school telling me about his behavioral problems in the classroom like ‘not standing in line’ and ‘not paying attention.’ It was so frustrating to me because Chris was never a problem at home. 

I thought about how as a toddler, he would spend hours outside quietly watching birds. When I found a flier for a summer program at a forest preserve in Alabama where we lived at the time, I was thrilled. But I wondered if he’d even want to go or if I’d still be bombarded with reports of poor behavior.

He went willingly and when I picked him up after the first day, I was so relieved … Chris was so peaceful! The staff told me he had absolutely no problems and they really enjoyed having him. School felt confining for him but this outdoor program helped him be more himself. And it provided a refuge from the immense stereotyping of black boys in school. 

After that first program, I spent the years from elementary through high school finding outdoor schools and programs for Chris where he could thrive. Along the way he further developed his love of birds, wildlife, backpacking, and leadership skills. 

Research shows that time spent in nature has many benefits including reduced stress, increased curiosity, and improved both physical and mental health. Did you know that outdoor school also has a positive impact on students’ motivation and interest to learn, critical thinking skills, and development of identity?

Getting in these outdoor programs early helped Chris find and become his best self, which was so reassuring as a parent. And these formative experiences when he was young led him down a career path that included going through North Cascades Institute’s M.Ed. graduate program with Western Washington University, teaching 5th graders in the Institute’s Mountain School and now having a career in National Parks. 

“Participating in outdoor programs as a kid provided an escape and a sense of belonging compared to the indoor spaces and classrooms I was used to. They made such a big impact on me that they influenced my career choice.” – Chris Williams

I treasure the picture of Chris at Mountain School, and think how amazing it is that these kids have the opportunity to experience the outdoors and be taught by instructors who truly value its impact. Your support of North Cascades Institute makes programs like that happen for nearly 2,600 young people every year.

Thanks for considering a gift today!  


  1. Becky

    Welcome! So glad to read this true life story! and to see grown Chris passing it on. I was school nurse for twenty years in inner city schools (Seattle and Everett). How the students would have benefitted from this nature connection!

    1. Alma Busby-Williams

      Becky, thanks so much for reading! I’m proud of Chris and to have this opportunity at NCI to share our story.

  2. Jodi Broughton

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, Alma!

  3. Audrey

    Thanks for sharing Alma. Me and my children have experienced precisely what you’ve mentioned here. A day outside in nature literally changes you! Each of my kids did Outdoor school for a week and it changed them PROFOUNDLY. My oldest daughter came back and cried sharing how her relationships with her teacher and classmates blossomed. How they sat around campfire each night connecting with other. Boys and girls crying as they shared personal stories. So I 100% credit nature for the type of growth and human evolution those children experienced. It is life hanging!

    1. Alma Busby-Williams

      Thank you for sharing–amazing what an impact a week of Outdoor School had on your family! Truly life changing!

    2. Alma Busby-Williams

      Audrey, thank you so much for reading and sharing. I’m so happy to hear about the positive impact of Outdoor School on your family!

  4. Deborah

    I enjoyed ready your story about Chris Alma. So thankful you found his niche at a young age. Intelligent black boys get into a lot of trouble at a young age because they are so misunderstood. My son too was always in trouble for talking in Kindergarten. Well, he was reading books and solving math problems at the age of 3 where his classmates were just learning their ABCs. Thank God a teacher rescued him, and he now works with computers for the state of Alabama. Thank you for sharing Chris’ story. You were a fantastic mother with your daughter in college and would not have expected anything less with your son. Continue to do great things.

    1. Alma Busby-Williams

      Thank you for sharing, Deborah! I am so very proud of both you and your son!

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