Oakland is blessed with an abundance of natural spaces, but unfortunately, many of these places remain out of reach for too many families in the city. The opportunity to appreciate nature and find joy outdoors must become a fundamental component of every child’s education and treated with the same level of importance as science, math, and literacy.
A growing body of research has found that outdoor environmental experiences offer children a range of social-emotional, spiritual, and academic benefits. Children who spend time outdoors exhibit improved attentiveness, reduced school absenteeism, and better academic performance. Outdoor experiences at an early age also help develop lifelong environmental stewardship. The pre-teen years, when many kids start spending less time outdoors and more time on screens, provide a pivotal time to kindle this sense of responsibility.
In 2019, SFF launched Oakland Goes Outdoors in order to provide Oakland youth with greater access to nature and the outdoors. The program initially set out to provide all 7,200 Oakland public middle school students with direct experiences in nature, but with additional donor support, we hope to expand the program and serve all 37,000 students in the district, and to create a toolkit for other districts to create similar programs. With its district-wide focus, Oakland Goes Outdoors is one of the first of its kind in the nation. “Our students are able to find a love for nature and become caretakers and stewards of the wild,” says Freddy Mesa, one of the program’s outdoor instructors. “That’s what humans were put on the world to do. (Read Freddy’s story: Breathe Again)
Oakland Goes Outdoors is an SFF partnership with the Oakland Public Education Fund, Oakland Unified School District, and Bay Area Wilderness Training. It is a project of SFF’s Youth Access to Nature Fund, which provides more equitable access to nature.
Questions? Please contact Francesca Vietor at fvietor[at]sff.org.