Grantee Spotlight: Urban Adventure Squad

Kids work together outside
Photo courtesy of Urban Adventure Squad

Meaningful experiences in the outdoors can happen anywhere. While the U.S. has an impressive array of wilderness areas, national parks, and more remote outdoor spaces, there are even more city parks, urban greenways, and neighborhood sidewalks that provide ample opportunities for young people to explore and learn. Urban Adventure Squad is an organization that utilizes the many outdoor spaces of Washington D.C. to help kids connect to each other and their city, as well as to academic material.

Students walk down a DC sidewalk together
Photo courtesy of Urban Adventure Squad

Urban Adventure Squad (UAS) is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2024. With a decade of experience getting D.C. kids outside, UAS educators see being based in a city as a strength rather than a limitation. D.C. is rich in greenspace, and UAS is dedicated to helping D.C. students learn outside of the four walls of a classroom – whether that’s in a pocket park, on a riverside trail, in a schoolyard, or on a sidewalk. UAS offers curriculum-aligned programming that supports learning related to science, math, writing, history, art, and almost any other subject.

Students work on tree identification with a UAS educator
Photo courtesy of Urban Adventure Squad

This kind of work doesn’t come without challenges. Learning outside, away from the formal setting of a classroom, is often a new experience for students. The outdoors can be associated with unstructured play rather than core educational time, and hands-on exploration as a part of the learning process can feel unfamiliar. UAS walks kids, teachers, and community partners through transitions into new environments and behavioral expectations, while taking lots of different learning styles and student needs into account. Fortunately, the benefits of outdoor learning far exceed the challenges. UAS offers kids a chance to learn through experience and connect academic material to the landscapes they see every day as D.C. residents. UAS programs also offer enriching childcare options for parents and guardians and support to teachers.

UAS staff and school principal pose together
Photo courtesy of Urban Adventure Squad

A grant from NRF supports UAS’ work at C.W. Harris Elementary School. As with all of UAS’ school partnerships, the programs at C.W. Harris are aligned with core curriculum, are developed in collaboration with teachers and school administrators, and are focused on making outdoor learning accessible and equitable for all D.C. public school students. In 2023, UAS worked with 2nd, 3rd, and 5th graders at C.W. Harris and covered social science, language arts, and environmental science concepts. In the new semester, UAS also will work to reach C.W. Harris families through school events and multigenerational programming. UAS educators meet with teachers prior to programming to review content and share lesson plans. After outdoor programs, teachers have access to UAS lesson plans to use again or adapt. This practice of resource sharing supports UAS’ goal of creating a culture of outdoor learning and meaningful student engagement across D.C. schools.

Students identify trees outside their school
Photo courtesy of Urban Adventure Squad

UAS had a great year in 2023. The overall number of youth participants rose to over 1,500, community partnerships with organizations like the National Arboretum and the U.S. Forest Service expanded, and school partnerships reached new highs at 25 public and public charter school collaborations across Washington D.C. Ongoing partnerships, like the one at C.W. Harris, help UAS staff build relationships with students and teachers that increase impact and make their work more meaningful. NRF is proud to have supported some of the work UAS did in 2023 and we look forward to what’s to come in 2024.