Nevada Outdoor School: A Conversation with the Crew

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This week, we’re talking about a local non-profit organization, the Elko branch of Nevada Outdoor School. Joining us for the conversation is not one, but three remarkable individuals from the NOS office! Our guests are Matt Jones, Jackie Lucero, and Brandolyn Thran. These three work hard to get kids off their screens and excited to learn about the outside world through classes and camps.

Now, that’s a fundamental summary of NOS, so let’s give Brandolyn the floor to really break down the mission of the school for us!

Brandolyn- “Our mission is to inspire exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat, and dedication to the community. In other words, we get kids outside, caring about nature, and wanting to share that care with others! In this area, many of us like to be outdoors and use it for a variety of things. So, we have to learn how to take care of it, together, so we can all enjoy it! If we can get kids doing this when they’re eight, nine, ten, and eleven, then hopefully they still will when they’re twenty-two, thirty-two, or eighty-two!”

That sounds like a great mission for a non-profit to have. Now, before we talk more about NOS, Matt, Brandolyn, Jackie, can you tell us a little bit about how each of you got involved with it?

Matt- “I am an AmeriCorps naturalist working with NOS. This is my second term with them; I started in March of last year [2018]. It’s been pretty fun, and I’ve grown a lot since being here. As a naturalist, we go to different schools to teach about environmental science and anything that has to do with the natural world.”

Brandolyn- “I started with NOS as a naturalist as well, in March of 2017. Before that, I worked for the Army, but I was interested in and passionate about education. I work now as an outreach person for the school. I love the mission of NOS; I really believe in it, and I want to see it flourish here in Elko.”

Jackie- “I’ve been at NOS since January of 2017. They opened up an office here in Elko that previous summer and they had someone in my role that was more into strategic planning, but they realized they needed someone who was into program management. That’s what I had done for a number of years beforehand, so after moving to Elko for my husband’s job at the BLM, I magically slide into the position here. It’s fun!”

 Brandolyn teaching at a field trip in May 2017 at Water Canyon in Winnemucca

Jackie, how do you all go about reaching the kids who might be the perfect attendees for your classes or camps?

Jackie- “It varies. We’re talking about programs that happen throughout the school year, so it’s my job to reach out to teachers, let them know about the lessons we offer and ask if they would like us to come into their classrooms. We also work with the school district, as well. When it comes to our summer camp programs, I advertise at the schools, community events, and on our website.”

What do each of you love about your roles within the school?

Matt- “It’s definitely the kids; without them, we wouldn’t have this job. I also get to come here and discover something new. I get to learn and carry things with me on to other careers. That’s something that excites me.”

Brandolyn- “My favorite thing is the science! I love watching kids connect things they’re learning about in the classrooms with what they see in nature or vice versa! I love connecting science and nature together because nature gives us so many examples of science in action every single day.”

Jackie- “I love the fact that we’re giving to the community. We’re giving to the kids, providing for the teachers, or helping at a community event. We’ll help out with California Trail Days, Cowboy Poetry, Trunk or Treat, even stewardship days they have up in the canyons. It’s fun getting out and doing all the things Elko has to offer!”

Matt leading a hike to Island Lake during Adventure Camp this past June (2019)

Brandolyn, the idea of an outdoor school might be a concept that’s more needed than ever in today’s day and age. Young people seem to be spending more and more of their time indoors or in front of a screen. What is the experience typically like when you get these kids to one of your classes or camps?

Brandolyn- “It’s interesting because when we take kids to the camps, we ask them to leave all their electronics at home, which has to be explicitly stated! However, what’s fun is that, at first, you see them sort of uneasy about it, but then, once you convince them they’re going to be okay, we stay so busy enjoying nature that it works itself out.

“When kids play video games, there can be this weird sense of capability because they found success in a game, but when we take them out into the real world, they’re a little timider. So, we try to build a different kind of confidence in them. Instead of talking about whatever level they’re on in Fortnite, they talk about how they were able to do something like climb a rock wall! It’s about pushing them to places they wouldn’t naturally push themselves. That’s something we can do that I don’t think you can get in other places.

“For some of the kids, it’s the first time they’ve never had technology in their life. So, it’s cool that we can help show them they can survive without it.”

Fantastic! Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers before we release you back into the wilderness?

Brandolyn- “There is power in nature when it comes to healing and health. If we can get young people, and in turn, their parents and grandparents, into nature, which will lead to a healthier young person, we will have a healthier community overall. Go Nevada Outdoor School!”

Matt- “Don’t be afraid to get out there!”

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See you around, Elko!

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