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