by Scott Underwood, M.D.
Health is more than the mere absence of disease. Rather, good health demands integration of psychological, physical, social and environmental components into a coherent whole. In fact, individual people cannot achieve good health alone. We are all part of larger of systems. We are all connected. To loved ones, to our community, to the larger human society, and at every level embedded in and dependent upon the “natural” world, the world that existed before humankind, and which will exist long after we are gone.
So how do we promote good health in its fullest sense? One of the most effective ways is to challenge our minds and bodies, in groups, in Nature. There is compelling scientific evidence that Adventure-Based Learning (ABL), professionally conducted in an atmosphere of respect, trust, and safety, facilitates the kind of integration and health promotion we are seeking.
One particularly powerful example of ABL is Ropes and Rafting, a program developed at the Mother Lode River Center that combines challenge ropes with whitewater rafting. Over a six-year period, in six different groups of 200 students, Ropes and Rafting was proven successful in promoting healthy outcomes for students at Golden Sierra High School in Garden Valley, California.
Ropes and Rafting begins with group challenges on land that emphasize life skills such as problem solving, cooperation, leadership, courage, flexibility, communication, resilience and appropriate risk taking. These group exercises are followed by a unique whitewater raft trip designed to apply and hone these skills. Acting as a team, the students learn to “read” the river’s currents and work together to guide the rafts through whitewater rapids.
At every opportunity, students are encouraged to ask questions and improve their powers of observation. With each new question, students learn to to creatively frame, logically refine, and then actively seek the answers to their questions. This process of overcoming real challenges in Nature connects the students to the river, to each other, and to their inner sense of self.
Are these programs reserved for the privileged few? Far from it, the students in this study live in a rural area suffering high rates of drug and alcohol abuse and unemployment. Yet, as a result of a six-year program that included Ropes and Rafting, their community was named as one of the “Top One Hundred Communities for Youth in America.”
If you would like to learn more about this program, simply follow the link below and read the academic paper that resulted from it: Rationale for Adventure Based Learning.
If you are interested in bringing students from your community to participate in programs such as Ropes and Rafting, contact us. We are anxious to share them with you!