Oakland Launches One of the Nation’s First District-Wide Outdoor Nature Programs

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Photo of today’s speakers, who announced Oakland Goes Outdoors. From left to right, Abdi Soltani, trustee, San Francisco Foundation, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, OUSD Middle School Network Superintendent Mark Triplett. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Foundation.

Today, a new program, Oakland Goes Outdoors, was launched at the Children & Nature Network International Conference in Oakland. The program is one of the nation’s first school district-wide programs in the US dedicated to providing all middle school students with regular outdoor learning experiences throughout the school year, and throughout their middle school years. Oakland Goes Outdoors intends to serve all 7,200 Oakland Unified School District middle school students in 13 different schools. “Every child in Oakland deserves access to the wonder and beauty of our natural environment,” said Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf. “I’m proud that our city will provide equitable access and connect all OUSD middle school students—no matter what neighborhood they come from or what school they attend—to meaningful outdoor learning experiences.” Oakland Goes Outdoors is based on a growing body of research that has found that outdoor environmental experiences offer children a wide array of emotional, social, spiritual and academic benefits. Children who spend time outdoors exhibit improved attentiveness, reduced school absenteeism, and better academic performance. Exposure to nature also fosters motor development, self-esteem, and overall improved health. Outdoor experiences at an early age also help develop lifelong environmental stewardship—a critical skill in these times. Middle school is a key time, as this is when many kids start to become less active outdoors and spend more time indoors and on screens, disconnected from the benefits of nature. Far too often, underserved youth do not have opportunities to access environmental programs. Despite being surrounded by some of the nation’s most beautiful regional, state, and national parks, many Oakland students have never truly experienced the outdoors.

“We know that connecting with the environment has the power to change the lives of our young people. We want to make it so that if you grow up in Oakland, this is simply a part of what you do as a middle schooler,” said Mark Triplett, OUSD Middle School Network Superintendent. Oakland Goes Outdoors is a pilot, three-year program seeded by the Robert and Kathryn Riddell Fund at the San Francisco Foundation, in partnership with the Oakland Unified School District, and Bay Area Wilderness Training, a nonprofit organization which will provide gear and train teachers and after school youth workers to take students on excursions throughout the Bay Area. Oakland Goes Outdoors expands the San Francisco Foundation’s existing work to provide more equitable access to nature for underserved youth. “Our visionary donors, along with our government and grantee partners, have made it possible to create innovative, cutting-edge programs like Oakland Goes Outdoors to provide more equitable opportunities for children in the Bay Area,” said Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation. Today’s announcement kicked off the Children & Nature Network International Conference, the world’s largest convening of children and nature advocates. Attendees include 800 cross-sector leaders from 15 countries working to increase equitable access to nature. “We are honored to host the launch of Oakland Goes Outdoors at our conference,” said Sarah Milligan-Toffler, executive director, Children & Nature Network. “The program is a shining example of the growing movement to increase equitable access to nature, and a model for the kinds of creative partnerships that are needed to create effective and sustainable programs that connect children with high quality outdoor engagement opportunities.”

With more than $1.5 billion in assets, the San Francisco Foundation is one of the largest community foundations in the country. The foundation is committed to expanding opportunity and ensuring a more equitable future for all in the Bay Area. Together with its donors, the foundation distributed $154 million to nonprofit organizations last fiscal year. The San Francisco Foundation serves Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo Counties.

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