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Fourth Graders, Fifth Graders and Fun: WTA Youth Ambassador Leads Classroom Hikes

Posted by Jessi Loerch at May 23, 2019 12:00 PM |

The Youth Ambassador Program gives leadership training opportunities to teens, who use their skills to plan trails-related projects in their own communities.

Story and photos by Britt Lê

With her daypack stuffed full of extra gloves and snacks, Ingrid Phillips led a dozen fourth and fifth graders along the Two Dollar Trail in Larrabee State Park. The kids chattered as they ambled along the trail, their colorful rain jackets providing brightness against the dense greenery around them. The students’ teacher, Cheryl Anderton, brought up the rear of the line.

Ingrid Phillips, a youth ambassador, has led regular hikers for a fourth and fifth grade class. 

The class was on their first hike of the new year. Ingrid paused at a pile of stones at the juncture of the trail to Fragrance Lake, the group’s final destination.

“This is a cairn,” she said, gesturing at the tiny stone structure. “They help you find your way.”

Three years ago, Ingrid Phillips came across a post about WTA’s Youth Volunteer Vacations while scrolling through her Instagram feed. After trying her hand at a few day work parties, Ingrid signed up for her first weeklong trip with WTA. She spent her days at Waptus Lake working with her crew to build a turnpike and her evenings swimming in the lake or reading in her tent. After returning from the trip, Ingrid applied for WTA’s Youth Ambassador Program.

"I really enjoyed the community I found at WTA, and I wanted to maintain those connections and make many more. I wanted to follow through on the momentum I'd built in the summer." — Ingrid Phillips

The Youth Ambassador Program provides leadership opportunities for teen volunteers who want to develop their skills in advocacy, outreach and public speaking. Ambassadors are asked to design independent projects related to their interests to further engage with WTA. For her project, Ingrid decided to partner with Cheryl Anderton at Twin City Elementary School in Stanwood to take students on monthly hikes.

It was a no-brainer for Cheryl when Ingrid first approached her with the idea three years ago. In addition to having known Ingrid since she was in the third grade, Cheryl also feels strongly about supplementing her classroom curriculum with hands-on experiences.

Ingrid Phillips hikes with a group of fourth graders. Photo by Britt Lê.
“I wanted to find a way to get more people onto trails and into nature, regardless of personal barriers. By teaching them how to hike, hopefully they’ll be prepared for a life of spending time outdoors.” — Ingrid Phillips

It takes a village to plan each monthly excursion. First, Ingrid has to pre-hike potential options to ensure the trail will be a good fit for the class. About a week before each hike, she coordinates a visit with Cheryl and the class to give them an overview of what the trail will be like, reiterate the hiking rules they’ve all agreed to adhere to as a group and remind them what they need to bring. Cheryl coordinates parent drivers or public transportation to get everyone to the trailhead.

This is the third year Ingrid has taken Cheryl’s students on monthly hikes. The kids are familiar with the routine now. Ingrid doesn’t expect all them of them to connect to the outdoors in the same way, but she is glad to be able to provide the opportunity.

"Students have to experience learning in order for it to become meaningful. The hikes are a natural extension of this process and have really supported our work in science. One of my favorite hikes was to Bowman Bay on Fidalgo Island. The students just soaked it up in every aspect. We had been studying some earth science concepts, and they came to life at this location in so many ways.” — Cheryl Anderton

It’s nearly the end of the hiking season for the class. And in the fall, Ingrid will be attending the University of Washington, where she intends to study engineering and oceanography. She hopes that in between all the classes, research, and internships that she’ll have time to stay in touch with her trail community and keep volunteering with WTA.

Cheryl hopes to continue to incorporate outdoor learning into her curriculum. She has seen firsthand how her students have benefitted from being outside. Though Ingrid’s time with the students is coming to an end, it is clear that her efforts have had a positive and memorable impact on their experiences both in and out of the classroom.

Some of them love it and some of them hate it. And I’m alright with that. It’s always great to hear them laughing and talking. Our hikes are not only learning opportunities, they’re also a great way to decompress.” — Ingrid Phillips