We often take our time in nature for granted. Some of us may have gone to summer camps that taught us how to kayak or build a campfire; others may have lived just minutes away from a beautiful national park. Experiences like these, or even an outdoor activity as simple as a run up Blackstone Boulevard, are out of the reach of many children who grow up in Providence. Jared Rothenberg ’15 and Ivy Sokol ’15 have partnered in order to provide a greater level of access to the outdoors and, in doing so, are joining a growing outdoor education movement. Their new organization is called Moving Mountains.
In their words, Moving Mountains is “an environmental education program for high school students in Providence,” but it can be so much more. The website for the organization lays out a persuasive case for the value of outdoor education programs like this. Not only do they “empower participants to achieve academically, embrace civic engagement, and practice lifelong environmental stewardship,” but they also provide physiological benefits that range from lower blood pressure to improved mental health.
For Sokol, the setting of outdoor education is essential to improving outcomes for kids: “the wilderness is sort of a simplified classroom in which behaviors can be enforced really easily.” Outside the walls of a typical high school, students can “become more self-aware” while — as Rothenberg later added — still thinking about “their local environments, whether that’s local parks or local issues… that might influence their lack of access” to the outdoors. In this way, Moving Mountains’ programming promotes both “leadership development” and “a sense of environmental stewardship.”
Moving Mountains grew out of a Social Innovation Fellowship that Rothenberg and Sokol won last spring, but the founders’ passion for wilderness education and the outdoors has always run deep. After both participating in BOLT before their sophomore year, Rothenberg and Sokol became leaders of the program. They were also involved with OLEEP, Brown’s Outdoor Leadership Environmental Education Program, for which Rothenberg used to be a coordinator. Sokol also used to work with OLEEP before founding Moving Mountains.
In parting with OLEEP to start their own organization, Rothenberg and Sokol hope to build something that, according to them, would be a game-changer in the outdoor education landscape: “the existing programs that we were a part of and that we knew about, either they were extremely local in scale… or they were really national but only targeted wealthier students,” said Sokol. “The idea behind Moving Mountains is to bridge that gap” by targeting low-income students on a large scale.
Moving Mountains may have ambitious plans for long-term growth, but the organization has started small. This summer, Rothenberg and Sokol led a two-week camp for just 6 students in Roger Williams Park in addition to an overnight camping trip. Since the school year has started, they have turned their attention to building activities for students at Mount Pleasant High School. What began as an afterschool group evolved into less regular activities that made more sense for their students and their busy schedules.
As with any young organization, the long-term future of Moving Mountains is uncertain. Though the group is still in what Rothenberg calls the “startup-y figuring-out-what’s-happening-phase” — spoken like a true entrepreneur — they could be taking on more workers to lead workshops soon. For now, however, an expansion to two more high schools, Hope and Alvarez, for next semester is the team’s top priority. Rothenberg and Sokol have recruited a couple of other Brown students who will hopefully take Moving Mountains to new heights in the coming years.
Clearly Providence has become a hotbed for innovation in outdoor education, and in the eyes of the founders of Moving Mountains, that’s great news: “the more, the better.” The benefits of such programming for students who would otherwise lack access to such activities are clear, so creating an organization that is both adaptable to each school’s needs and scalable to reach as many children as possible would be a major development. “The more, the better,” indeed.