An NEISD student rappels down a rock face at H.E. Butt Free Foundations Camp. Photo courtesy of NEISD/Kellie Johnson.

Editor’s Note: “What’s Working Well in Bexar County Public Schools: Empowering Students for Lifetime Fitness and Health,” a program free and open to the public, will be held Wednesday, 6:30-8 p.m. in the Buena Vista Theater at the UTSA Downtown Campus. Parking is free in the Cattlemen’s Square parking lot on Buena Vista Street. Physical education specialists from the San Antonio, Harlandale, Northside, and Northeast ISDs will recount innovative physical education programs designed by their districts with the help of federal Carol M. White grants.

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Three years ago, I had a vision as a health and physical education teacher at Robert E. Lee High School to bring outdoor adventures to my students who would normally not have the opportunity or financial ability to experience what it was like to spend a few days in the great outdoors.

I had grown up fishing, kayaking, hiking, and participating in water sports. Never once did it cross my mind that other kids weren’t doing the same. Now, as an adult, my husband and I spend two weeks in Montana at his family’s place to give our three children the same experiences we had in the outdoors growing up. These experiences molded us into adults who love to be active and enjoy the outdoors; I want the same things for my children. But it dawned on me one summer in Montana, that I want the same thing for my “other children,” my students. I want them to appreciate the outdoors and all the benefits that nature can offer them in terms of health and well-being. So, I contacted my North East Independent School District supervisor and friend, Rachel Naylor, to bounce my vision off of her.

Rachel loved the idea, and after a lot of planning and getting in touch with H.E. Butt Free Foundations Camp in Leakey, Texas, we set off with our first group of campers of 10 students. Student experiences with the outdoors varied from kids who had never been outside San Antonio’s city limits to kids who had never seen a cow except in a photograph. Excitement, nervousness, and the adrenaline rush of the unknown made the two-hour car ride quite interesting.

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Upon arrival, the students received their itinerary. Archery, repelling, rock wall climbing, fishing, stargazing at night, hiking, kayaking and paddle boarding were activities they would partake in, having never done them before. Although there was some anxiety, the pure joy, excitement and sense of accomplishment on their faces proved that the experience was worth the effort, time and funding put forth to make the trip happen.

We are now going into our fourth year and the number of students we take has tripled. Other schools in our district are taking advantage of this opportunity for their students as well. But, due to budget constraints, we are now seeking help from our communities to keep their experiences alive for our students. While the facilities at camp are free to use, there are still travel, food, programming, insurance, and staffing costs associated with the trips. We have applied for grants, but we are also taking advantage of It’s Time Texas’s Growing Healthy Schools fundraising page. We hope this article helps rally support for all seven high schools in NEISD. For more information visit www.growinghealthyschools.org. Any size donation makes a difference.

*Top image: An NEISD student rappels down a rock face at H.E. Butt Free Foundations Camp. Photo courtesy of NEISD/Kellie Johnson.

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Kellie Johnson

Kellie Johnson is a physical education teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in the Northeast Independent School District.