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Teaching on Trail: Custom Workshops For Educators of Youth

Through workshops, a free gear library and trip funding, the OLT program provides customized training for educators who want to take youth groups outside.

As a new year gets underway, WTA is looking forward to helping more educators reach their goals of opening up the outdoors to more people through our Outdoor Leadership Training (OLT) program.

Launched in 2014, the program has already had a tremendous impact. Offering the workshops is one way WTA has counteracted barriers to the outdoors; the 331 leaders we've trained have gone on to supervise over 10,000 OLT-supported outdoor experiences, enabling more people to get outside. 

And graduates of OLT workshops have access to even more great offerings. Leaders can get everything they need to outfit their group from the gear lending library and can get assistance paying for trip expenses by applying for a mini-grant.

The OLT program is designed to help bridge the equity gap in outdoor recreation by empowering these leaders with all the skills and resources they need to run safe and meaningful trips outside. 

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The gear lending library is stocked with everything a group needs to have a safe and fun trip. Photo by Teddy Wingo. 

What's new this year

In 2020 we're excited to offer more custom workshops for staff of organizations that serve communities where 40 percent or more of the student body are students of color and/or qualify for free or reduced lunch. Unlike regular OLT workshops — which bring together staff from many different organizations (with no more than three staff from any one organization) — custom workshops are specifically tailored for organizations who want to train five or more staff members at a time. 

When a group signs up for a custom workshop, they decide which areas of outdoor education they want to focus on and WTA's instructors adapt their curriculum to fit those needs.

For example, If OLT participants want to learn about outdoor games, map reading or other topics, the workshop leaders can adjust accordingly, centering their workshop around developing those specific skills. 

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Training takes place out on the trail where instructors can get hands-on experience. Photo by Shane Welch.

For some groups, custom workshops provide an opportunity to add outdoor education to their programming, and hone their skill set.

For others, custom workshops are a chance to expand on an established commitment to get outside. One such organization is GirlTrek, founded in 2010 with the mission of inspiring Black women to lead healthy lives and build community by walking together. 

GirlTrek members at an OLT custom workshop. Photo by Britt Lê. 

Seattle members of GirlTrek participated in an OLT custom workshop in 2019 and spoke about their experience.

“We know there is a history of exclusion — that in some way, the outdoors is only for certain people. With the help of Washington Trails Association’s Outdoor Leadership program & GirlTrek’s Adventure Squad, we counter that narrative, and make a space for all Black women who want to reclaim the outdoors for themselves. Hiking is not only an opportunity to challenge yourself to do something new, but also to find peace in the sanctuary of nature.”

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Outdoor educators work together to think through the logistics of a trip. Photo by Shane Welch. 

Jean Bartholomew, WTA's OLT Administration Coordinator, can't wait to see the impact these workshops will have in the coming year. She says, "I'm excited to expand the offerings of custom workshops in 2020. It's great to see coworkers learn together and practice addressing the specific goals of their outings in a supportive environment of their peers. I'm looking forward to working with organizations to help them reach more youth through their programming with strong team support."