Taking It Outside

Here’s the thing about camping: You can’t do it virtually. Which posed a very specific problem for the Upper School’s Outdoors Club last spring.

“We had been planning for months for our big spring break trip out west,” says Nathan Lassman ’21, one of the Outdoors Club heads. “After School shut down, we were very limited about what we could do.” So, at the beginning of this year, the group came to School with a new purpose: They could remind people that the core mission of the club is to just get outside. “We can’t do an organized school trip on a plane to somewhere 2,000 miles away,” Lassman says, “but we can still encourage people to get outside and explore the outdoors on their own.”

That shift means that the Outdoors Club has become a resource and a font of encouragement for those students who want to safely spend time outside.

“We have to adapt because it looks like this is not going away anytime soon,” the club’s other head, Nina Prakash ’21, says of the coronavirus. “Now we’re meeting virtually on a regular basis to talk about what people have been doing, like ‘Hey, have you found a new trail? Have you found a new place to camp?’” The group is also compiling regional resources for Sidwell Friends students. If someone doesn’t know where to go, for example, the Outdoors Club can pinpoint great activities in their neighborhood. “We say, ‘You live in McLean?’” Prakash says. “‘Here are eight things you can do in McLean right now.’” The Outdoors Club can also cure boredom, says Prakash: “They can look at the list and say, ‘This is five minutes away from my house. I can go do this.’”

In an effort to encourage even more Upper Schoolers to get outside, the club is sponsoring the Great Outdoors Challenge, a competition that will last through the end of November, with a $75 gift card to REI for the winner.

“We give points to people for just going for a simple walk around their neighborhood,” Lassman says. “There are all kinds of activities—one person went fishing.” Other students are hiking, camping, and kayaking. “It’s been great,” Lassman says, “because it looks like people are submitting more than I think they would have had there not been this competition.”

“We definitely think it’s inspiring some people to do things that they wouldn’t have done normally,” Prakash said. “There’s one person who camped out in his backyard for a week!”

In the end, of course, the competition isn’t about winning.

“It’s about keeping the community-building aspect of the club while still making sure we’re abiding by guidelines and staying safe,” Lassman says. “And it’s been a great incentive to get outside. Come for the $75 gift card, but stay for that awesome outdoor experience you’re going to get.”


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