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Outdoor education program at Fort Smith school takes students beyond the classroom

The Outdoor Education program at the Future School of Fort Smith is teaching high schoolers about everything the Natural State has to offer.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Preparing children for adulthood requires so much more than reading and writing. The Future School of Fort Smith offers an outdoor education program that takes students beyond the classroom.

"So it’s taking traditional classroom learning and it’s putting it into the real world," said Brett Roberts, Future School Outdoor Education Director.

Brett Roberts and her best friend built the program from scratch five years ago.

"Some of these skills you can learn from a book. But a lot of these skills you need someone to tell you and show you, hey, this is the safe way to do this, this is the correct way to do this," Roberts said.

The program has evolved over time and through the pandemic, now offering an introductory course for any student in 9th through 12th grade followed by a second-year class for upperclassmen.

"The 101 program is focused on becoming a responsible outdoor user," Roberts said. "At the 201 level, they’re taking those hard skills that they learned in 101 and we’re expanding those. We’re expanding the certifications offered to things that need a little bit more maturity."

And new this year, the Sapling Program for sophomores with monthly trips away from school for the next three years until their graduate. On the September trip, the students camped at the Parker Bottoms campground near Eureka Springs and learned to fly fish on the White River.

"It’s this consistent trip. It’s five days. We’re in the field the whole time, all five days. Living together, cooking together, cleaning, eating, sleeping, activity, all that stuff together, with the same people so it really becomes a tight bond and you can focus on those skills," Roberts said.

But the Sapling Program is about more than just the hard skills learned at a campsite.

"One of the big focuses is social-emotional learning and social-emotional growth and looking at personal power, personal growth. And that’s stuff that has to be built upon," Roberts said.

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And being outside, away from school and away from home, allows students to focus on the challenges right in front of them.

"We’re free from distraction, right? There’s no Snapchat out here. There’s no Instagram, there’s no social media," Roberts said. "It really opens up the mind and the body and everything to being, just being you, and learning in the best way possible."

With experience as a professional guide, wilderness EMT, swift watch tech, Leave No Trace master educator and multiple industry certifications, Roberts brings a wealth of knowledge to her students to expand their horizons.

"My toolbox is the outdoors. That’s what I did. And so using that toolbox to bring that into the classroom and bringing the classroom outside I think is really important," Roberts said.

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The first Sapling trip in August 2022 was kayaking on the Buffalo National River. The October 2022 trip will be rock climbing at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch and everything is provided free to students.

To learn more about the program, you can follow Outdoor Education on Facebook or Instagram. You can email Roberts with questions at broberts@fsfuture.org.

Click here to watch an extended cut of her interview with 5NEWS that's also available on our free 24/7 streaming platform 5+.

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