NY teen builds program to bring diversity, inclusion to nature
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (WCAX) - Middle school can be a drag for a lot of students, but one New York eighth-grader made her final year at a Lake Placid boarding school one to remember. Her work will benefit kids for years to come.
“I always knew that I would want to go to a boarding school, and my mom had like found this place. And I was like, yes, of course I want to go here,” said Inyene Bell, recounting her choice to head to North Country School.
For this New Rochelle 13-year-old, the outdoors used to be uncharted territory. When it came time for middle school, she packed her bags and went to the boarding school in Lake Placid.
“When Inyene came here from New Rochelle, she recognized that this is a part of the world that she’d never experienced and it changed her in so many ways,” said Todd Ormiston, the executive director of the North Country School. “And she wanted other children to experience that.”
After an uncomfortable adjustment period, and a newfound love for nature, she began to realize there was something missing.
“I had realized that there wasn’t a lot of representation in the outdoors, and so I wanted to change that to show people of color that there are opportunities here and that you can do it here,” Bell said.
So with the help of her teachers and school administration, she created a weeklong program to do just that.
“Her idea was that if she can make the difference in these 10 or so children and their lives, then they’re going to bring those stories back also to their families and their classmates,” Ormiston said.
Sandwiched between the end of school and the beginning of summer camp, this year was the inaugural “Access Wild Places.”
The student-designed weeklong program allows children from underrepresented demographics the chance to experience the outdoors with the help of experts.
“It was amazing and all the kids loved it and they were all nice and it was all good,” Bell said.
Though Bell is off to a new school next year, her work to better diversity, inclusion and equity will continue on, and so will Access Wild Places.
“I think we’re all recognizing that nature is a human right and we should all have the opportunity to experience nature, experience the outdoors and really the healing power of wild places,” Ormiston said.
Thanks to Bell’s hard work and supportive school staff, the folks at North Country School are hoping this program acts as a blueprint for others.
“I really believe that we all have a responsibility to give children the opportunity to be in a place that’s unfamiliar to them,” Ormiston said. “For us, we have the benefit of the Adirondack Park, but we also think that this can be replicated not only across the country but across the world. But there’s so many different places that are unexplored by children who just have never been given the opportunity.”
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