Project goal: Help Central Valley teens build connections to public lands, as well as the confidence and core skills they need to succeed in high school, college and careers.

Why this work matters: Adventure Risk Challenge builds bridges between students and public lands — and, along the way, engages participants in programming that helps them hone academic, leadership and stewardship skills.

ARC works with high schools in California’s Merced and Fresno counties, where students are at high risk of dropping out. Most ARC students have limited or no access to their nearby national park.

ARC’s approach includes weekend hiking retreats; one-on-one mentoring; and a 40-day summer course in Yosemite that features a mix of outdoor activities, such as backpacking and rock-climbing, and academics, including environmental science lessons and writing exercises — all at no charge to the students and their families.

During the past decade, thanks to Conservancy donors, ARC has helped hundreds of students experience Yosemite, build core skills, and develop a sense of connection to, and responsibility for, the natural world.

According to ARC program data, 98% of summer-course graduates have completed high school on time, and 80% have gone on to college. Alumni have become park rangers, pursued advanced environmental science degrees, worked with our art team in Yosemite and more; several program graduates have even joined the ARC staff!

How your support helped: The COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges for in-person education, but with your support, the ARC team adapted, innovated, and delivered high-quality experiences for their students throughout the year.  With your help, the ARC team coordinated a successful COVID-adapted, Yosemite-based summer course for eight students, which culminated with a livestreamed “Voices of Youth” poetry reading event. Your support also helped ARC complete the inaugural year of its new Community Leadership Program at one partner high school in May, and expand the program to a second school in September. The Community Leadership Program is a two-year progression that includes school-based leadership and literacy workshops, plus outdoor excursions, and aims in part to reach students who cannot participate in the summer course due to work or family commitments.

For a recap of the 2020 ARC summer course, check out our blog post, “Part of the Natural World,” and our November 2020 magazine!

Project partners: Yosemite National Park and Adventure Risk Challenge.

Sarah Ottley

Executive Director, Adventure Risk Challenge

Project Notes

"Adventure Risk Challenge is embedded in Central Valley high schools where students are at high risk of dropping out and never going to college and where there are few extracurricular activities. ... ARC's programming helps these underserved students navigate life's most pressing challenges, feel a responsibility to their community and broader environment, and find their voice as community leaders and ambassadors for the natural world."