Penn Yan students and staff members alike can feel like they’re on top of the world thanks to an outdoor adventure club that is taking them into the outdoors. The club, in its second year, focuses primarily on providing hiking outings. In a world where some teenagers play sophisticated video games in which they can blow up buildings, drive 100 miles per hour through city streets or get involved in gunfights, the idea of spending time walking in the woods, well, might not sound so thrilling.
But Penn Yan physical education teacher Kiki Seago, who grew up camping and backpacking in the wilderness on trips with her family, thinks some of the sights and sounds in the Finger Lakes region can be just as exciting as any video games.
In May, the club took a two-day trip to the Adirondack Mountains.
“The students loved it,” Seago says. “They learned how to live outdoors and they sat at the top of the peak. We were lucky to get a pretty nice view.”
There they were, on top of the world.
The idea for the club did not form on a peak or trail. It actually got started in a school hallway. Seago, who coaches soccer and basketball at the grade school level, was talking with science teacher Jon Pragle and library media specialist Aaron Mumby, and the subject turned to the great outdoors.
“We said, ‘Let’s put something together for students,’ and that’s what we did,’’ she says. “We each bring our own strengths and experiences to the group, which is really cool. We actually make a pretty good team.’’
Hiking has been the main event for the club, but there are plans to add kayaking, snowshoeing and rock climbing to future outings. Each hike draws about seven to 15 participants, and students with various interests participate.
“Everyone is welcome,” Seago says. “We are getting quite a few kids who are not involved in athletics. They are looking for a group to be a part of. They are looking to be active but not through organized sports. There is a commitment, but it’s not an everyday grind of going to practices.”
Penn Yan Assistant to the Superintendent Becki Bailey says the school district has been mindful of providing wellness programs for staff members for years. She added that a club like this takes those principles to the students as well.
Seago points out that there’s more than just exercise involved in hiking.
“Being out in nature is a de-stresser,” she says. “It can lower your blood pressure. Depending on the hike, it’s good for your body. But the de-stressing part is the big part. This allows students’ brains to unwind a bit, so when they go back to the classroom as students again they have the potential to do their best.”
Some students already hike, hunt and fish with their families, and that has helped keep the numbers of the club modest.
“We live in such a beautiful area and the falls are so busy,” Seago says. “But I think it will catch on. It’s relatively easy for newcomers and it has a spectacular view at the top that looks down to this gorge and shale wall, and you can take great photos. It’s a really beautiful hike. ’’
Seago loves to watch reactions of first-time student hikers.
“The fun part, and this is where the real magic happens, is when you draw in the kids who don’t really do this with their families,” she says. “Then when they get there on top of the mountain, and they are with a group of people who are super positive and enjoyable to be around, it’s a game-changer for them.”
The second year of the Penn Yan Central School District’s outdoor adventure club kicked off in September with a hike that was open to both students and staff members. A couple dozen participants hit the trail at Conklin’s Gully in Naples, New York, and got to see some breathtaking views.
But even more unique than the views is the relationship between students and teachers in an environment outside the classroom.
Bailey says formally opening up the hike to staff members was a good idea for the students to see their teachers in a different light.
“We know that wellness is not just physical,” she says. “It’s emotional. It’s social. It’s occupational. It’s environmental. It’s spiritual. It’s all of those things. The social interaction outside of the classroom is a really positive thing.’’
Bailey reported that staff members enjoyed hiking with the students, and future events could bring out more participants.
“We are focused on wellness in the district,” Bailey says. “We’ve focused on staff in the past and now we are doing things that influence both staff and students. The students in the adventure club wanted to open up the hiking events to staff members. This is the first time we put the invite out to everyone in the district. We’re excited to be able to create different levels of awareness.”