By: Lo Hutelmyer, Ryan Singleton and Ty’Shay Thorton

To an educator, few things are more rewarding than witnessing a student discover his or her own passion. More rewarding still is when they show their first glimpses of leadership by taking charge to teach others about their passion.

For those of you who may know me, it’s sometimes a challenge for me to stay quiet. But when I had the opportunity to watch Ty’Shay and Ryan present at last month’s conference, I was speechless. Ty’Shay and Ryan, 7th graders from Manchester Academic Charter School, have been participating regularly on Venture Outdoors trips for two years. When our organization was invited to present at the 2018 Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators Conference in State College, PA, these two students took the lead in running the show. They worked as a pair to present a 90-minute workshop titled “Storytelling through Geocaching: a high-tech scavenger hunt”.

In front of 20 environmental educators from across the state, Ty’Shay and Ryan shared their personal stories about their favorite outdoor adventures. To prepare for the conference presentation, they wrote their stories (below) – but they were so confident in what they would present that day that neither of them once looked at their notes. They also walked workshop participants through instructions on how to use our Global Positioning System (GPS) units and successfully complete the geocaching course they helped set up at the Toftrees Conference Center. They then sent the participants off in groups to complete the geocaching course, assisting as needed.

I can remember the day I called the school’s principal (and beloved Venture Outdoors Board Member), Dennis Henderson, to talk to him about Ty’Shay. Within a matter of weeks, she had shown so much enthusiasm and dedication in our weekly leadership program that I had to let him know. “Oh no, what did she do now?” was his initial response when I first called. When I explained the real reason why I was calling, he was so excited to hear that she had finally found something to be truly excited about and motivated by. For the next semester, Ty’Shay showed such strong leadership skills in the Venture Outdoors program – qualities which ultimately led to her being an obvious choice to present at the conference.

We know that Venture Outdoors and getting outside isn’t everything to them – they’re middle schoolers after all. They still have to deal with and think about all the lovely and wonderful (not) things that pestered us when we were in our early teens. Birding and geocaching may fall relatively low on a list of their ‘favorite things to do’. But what we witnessed at the conference was a spark – Ty’Shay and Ryan discovered something, albeit minor, that they care about – that I hope they continue to care about well into their adult lives. The hope with our youth programs is that the kids are able to take away something – an activity, a moment, an animal, a special green space – that they hold onto. And the best outcome we’d like to see is that they become true stewards of the environment and green spaces for their friends, families and communities.

And of course, we had just enough time to stop by the Lion Shrine and snap a photo with the Nittany Lion (PSU Class of 2027? I can only hope…)

My name is Ryan Singleton. I am in 7th grade. I am 13 years old and I have been with Venture Outdoors for two years.

My story today is about the day that I went to go do a bird ID with Venture Outdoors as part of the international Great Backyard Bird Count.

On this day, we met in the Great Hall and the Trip Leaders explained what we were going to do. I remember being tired and sluggish, so when we finally went outside to go on the hike I was behind everybody. I didn’t want to do anything until the teacher that was leading (his name was Mr. Brazil) said “There’s a bird over here”.

He claimed the bird was a red-bellied woodpecker. I went to see what he was talking about and there it was: a red-bellied woodpecker. I saw other birds that day, too. We saw a mourning dove and some type of hummingbird that was green and pinkish. That was my favorite Venture Outdoors experience. I still search the skies for birds today.

Another activity that I did with Venture Outdoors was biking. We biked near the parking lot of our school. We took turns and played in races. Two people went at a time through an obstacle course. They had to put on a helmet and go a certain way around the cones.

I was terrible at it. I probably knocked over every single cone. When I finally got it done, the other team had finished. I was the last person to go and that was probably for the better.

My name is Ty’Shay Thornton and I’m 12 years old. I go to Manchester Academic Charter School and I’m in 7th grade. I have been with Venture Outdoors for 2 years and my favorite activity has been geocaching. With Venture Outdoors we’ve done a lot of geocaching and I was actually a leader of multiple geocaching activities.

My geocaching story is when we went to Riverview Park. We got off the bus and the Trip Leaders introduced us to everybody and showed us how to use the GPS units.

They split us up into groups and we geocached. We went around the park searching for these yellow cache boxes, which told us answers to questions about Moses Carper, the Cowboy of Riverview Park. 

By the end of the geocaching experience, they told us about a app called Geocaching.com. Later, I downloaded it and I got the geocache on the Northside where I live and also in Penn Hills with my cousin. To be honest, you can geocache anywhere. Geocaching was started in 2000 and it is international, so that means people all over the world do it.

Ty'Shay on her first day with Venture Outdoors in 6th grade.

Ty’Shay on her first day with Venture Outdoors in 6th grade.

Ryan on his first day with Venture Outdoors in 6th grade.

Ryan on his first day with Venture Outdoors in 6th grade.

Ty'Shay and Ryan present their stories

Ty’Shay and Ryan present their stories.    

Ty'Shay and Ryan show others how to use the GPS units

Ty’Shay and Ryan show others how to use the GPS units.    

Ty'Shay (left) practices giving her paddle talk.

Ty’Shay (left) practices giving her paddle talk.    

Ryan (right) kayaks in the pool at Sarah Heinz House.

Ryan (right) kayaks in the pool at Sarah Heinz House.    

Workshop participants geocache at the Toftrees Conference Center

Workshop participants geocache at the Toftrees Conference Center.    

Posing at the Lion Shrine! PSU Class of 2027

Posing at the Lion Shrine! PSU Class of 2027.