| Teagan Papke

RiseUp Community High School’s Pilot CAP Experience: Thriving and Surviving!

From Survival Skills to Community Impact: A Journey of Growth and Connection at RiseUp Community High School. Written by Logistics Manager Maeve O’Meara.

This January, in the heart of Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, RiseUp Community High School welcomed Cottonwood Institute to offer students a unique opportunity for growth and connection. For the first time ever, Cottonwood Institute’s CAP (Community Adventure Program) partnered with RiseUp to provide students with outdoor and environmental curriculum, opportunities to connect with each other in nature, and the chance to make a tangible difference in their community.

A RiseUp student cooks on a camp stoveSurvival Skills: Building Confidence and Connection
From the start of the program, students showed a particular interest in learning practical survival skills. The program began within the familiar confines of the school, where students engaged in hands-on activities to practice their survival skills in an urban environment. One standout activity was the fire-building lab, where students tested various fire starters and learned crucial techniques for safely and effectively building fires. These skills were essential for their field days, where they ventured to Chatfield State Park and Bear Creek Lake Park to put their findings to the test. This early phase of the class also allowed students to connect with each other, friendships were forged and strengthened over group projects and goofy team building activities.

Field Days: Connecting with Nature
During field days, students had the opportunity to connect with nature and use their fire-building skills to cook a truly delicious meal as a group. These outings were focused on using their newfound survival skills and enjoying time together in nature. They learned how to regulate body temperature and stay warm in cold weather, crucial skills for enjoying time outside in the winter months. Students succeeded in starting fires using only tinder and kindling they gathered themselves and a fire striker tool. To close out their field day, each group sat down together and enjoyed a meal of carne asada tacos and handmade corn tortillas. Both classes agreed that food tastes better when you cook it over a fire, eat it with your friends, and have s’mores afterward! Although our time together was short on these field days, students gained a deeper appreciation for each other, the natural world, and their ability to thrive within it.

Survival kits built by RiseUp students to donate for people experiencing homelessnessEmpowering Action: Making a Positive Impact
Central to the program were the action projects undertaken by each class. Students in one class were inspired to research the impact of pollinators on humans and the environment. Ultimately, they decided to transform the neglected school courtyard into a pollinator garden, cleaning up the trash their peers had discarded and replacing it with wildflower seeds. They covered the garden beds with mulch and waited patiently for spring when they would hopefully see pollinators begin to visit the native wildflowers they planted. Meanwhile, another class focused their passion for survival skills on researching the needs of people surviving in the area closest to their school. After compiling a list of the most pressing needs of people experiencing homelessness, students solicited donations and built survival kits. Offering these kits to people near the school provided a powerful opportunity for community connection.

RiseUp students clean the neglected school courtyard and transform it into a pollinator garden by spreading wildflower seedsReflection and Growth: Celebrating Accomplishments
As the CAP program came to an end, students gathered to reflect on their journey and celebrate their accomplishments. Though their time together was short, the impact of their actions was significant. Through their dedication and hard work, they made a tangible difference in their community and walked away with the intent to continue their efforts. 87% of students agreed that they believe their actions can help their community, and 82% agreed that they are more likely to make a positive difference in their community.

Simply put, one student said, “I would recommend this class because it teaches you life skills you’ll need if the world ends or if you’re just going outdoors!” Other students reflected that CAP “gives you a different perspective on nature and environmental issues,” and some things they really enjoyed were “everyone being involved” and “coming up with solutions and acting on them.” Looking ahead to the future, Cottonwood Institute and RiseUp Community High School plan to partner again this summer for a five-day camping program exploring Colorado watersheds with The Colorado Watershed Project.

Categories: CAP, Program News

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