During the course of this project, I got to learn a lot about the opportunities available for youth at National Parks and other sites around Washington. One of the things that I knew coming in was that there is a serious lack of these opportunities, but during the summer, I discovered some of the factors that lead to this lack of activities. To me, the main factor that creates difficulties for youth involvement in national parks and other special places beyond downtown Seattle’s borders is transportation. It’s extremely hard to get out to National Parks without a car and a driver’s license. As of now, I don’t think there is a simple solution. It’s expensive to provide buses and there’s no guarantee that if buses were available, youth would take them.
Another main barrier to youth involvement is a lack of interest. I can most certainly attest that when I was in high school, I had very little interest in volunteering more than the hours required by school. As a teenager, I was very interested in the National Parks, but mostly as a place to explore with my friends, rather than a place to be involved. I enjoyed going backpacking and hiking, but I was lucky enough to have friends with cars and to have a driver’s license and the means to buy hiking boots and a backpack. My family likes the outdoors, so they encouraged these activities, but I saw many other students who didn’t know the first thing about getting outdoors and really weren’t interested in learning. This lack of interest is extremely tricky to tackle. How can adults really convince teenagers that we know what they’ll enjoy? For this reason, I think it’s important to make more programs that address the requirements of students and make it easy to participate. If there were more organized volunteer days for students with transportation and free food, students might participate to fulfill volunteer requirements and, while there, discover how awesome the outdoors really is.
Many of the youth coordinators we visited with this summer spoke of not wanting students who aren’t engaged and excited to be there. They want interns who really want to be there. I think that while this attitude makes perfect sense from a hiring point of view, it’s also important to encourage kids who might not be so enthusiastic already. Isn’t that the point of being young? Trying new things? It’s important that younger students get the chance and are encouraged to do things they’ve never done before. To do things that maybe their parents aren’t interested in.
Finally, that last obvious barrier I noticed was that even when parks or museums had awesome programs for students, they didn’t have a good method for making them known. They relied on students who took initiative to ask and to search for opportunities. There didn’t seem to be enough outreach efforts going on. This is why In My Backyard is so crucial. Having a lot of opportunities to look at in one easy-to-access location and making that location known can help to give a lot more students knowledge about the programs available to them.
– Natasha Way, SCA Intern