Starting March 3, students at Margaret L. Hopkin Middle School can go on an outdoor adventure with their peers after school. The group meets on Thursdays and each week they will travel by bus to a new location to learn from experts in the community.
“In this generation, even though they’re so connected by technology, they’re really disconnected,” said Stefanie Biron, the college school therapist who started the group. “Every year I hear more about anxiety and more about depression. [from students] and not much on interests or activities. Part of my goal in this group, and all of our after-school groups, is to do things outside and get people working together.
On March 3, the group traveled to Courthouse Wash to explore with two park rangers. This week they will go geocaching, an activity that involves searching for hidden objects with GPS coordinates. The group will also learn about art with Samantha Zimmerman, the 2022 Community Artist in the Parks; spend a day of yoga with Angela Houghton, a local yoga instructor; and spend an afternoon exploring petroglyph panels to learn about local archeology.
The program was created in partnership with Kristina Young, assistant professor of extension at the University of Utah, and the BEACON Afterschool program. Biron said student interest is high and every after-school adventure will only be limited by the physical space on the bus.
In her work as a therapist, Biron is “really involved in getting people to learn something new,” she said, both to give people new interests and hobbies, and also to encourage people to work with each other and build relationships. That’s what she hopes the after-school adventure group will provide for students: a space to learn, meet other students, and build their confidence.
“It’s a beautiful thing to see a group of students go from being really nervous on day one to feeling really confident about a new skill or getting to know each other in a different way,” he said. she stated.
Biron pointed out that most middle school students in Moab have known each other since elementary school, so putting students outside of their normal routines can help them get to know each other in a different dynamic. The group’s outdoor structure “will create more opportunities for students to be themselves,” she said.
There are countless studies on how outdoor activities can improve mental health – in 2020 the American Psychological Association wrote that exposure to nature has been linked to benefits such as “better attention , reduced stress, improved mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders, and increased empathy and cooperation.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in 2019 that adolescent mental health is a growing concern – this year- there, one in three high school students reported experiencing “lingering feelings of sadness or hopelessness,” a 40% increase from 2009.
“What I notice when I take kids outside, especially middle schoolers, is that they’re still in touch with that curious part of themselves,” Biron said. “I think [this group] is an opportunity to allow that curiosity and desire that we all have as human beings to learn and try things and be present in our lives…we’re not trying to invent an experience. It’s about providing a way for kids to have an experience and then ride with whatever comes their way.
Exposing students to adults in the community doing interesting and creative things is also an important aspect of the group, Biron said.
“It’s really easy to get into our circle and have our people, and we forget that Moab actually has a very diverse set of people doing really cool and interesting things,” she said. “I always try, with all my bands, to have that community aspect… It’s really cool for kids to see what other adults are doing and how they make a living. I think there’s something really powerful there.
The group, for students in grades 7 and 8, meets every Thursday after school until about 4:45 p.m. The last outing will be on April 7. Any student or parent interested in involving their child can contact Stefanie Biron at [email protected] org or at 435-719-4709.