Students from 10 schools, and one home-schooled group, participated in the 21st Annual Susquehanna Valley Middle School Envirothon, held at the Montour Preserve. Judy Becker, Northumberland County Conservation District manager, said middle students from Northumberland, Union, Snyder and Columbia counties participated in the annual event. Students visited stations which focused on aquatics, soils, wildlife and forestry. “We want [students] to really gain a better appreciation for their outside environment,” Becker said. “It’s an opportunity for the kids to unplug and get outside. The Montour preserve is such a beautiful location.”

The Yard, for kids 6 through 13, lacks the usual monkey bars, slides and swings. It is, however, well-stocked with dismembered store mannequins, wooden packing crates, tires, mattresses, an old piano and assorted other detritus of the modern world. There were a few rules: no iPads or electronic devices, no flip flops and no adults.

“Sometimes parents hover by the fence and watch their kids like animals in a zoo,” said Rebecca Faulkner, the executive director of play:groundNYC, the nonprofit that runs The Yard, which opened in 2016. “I tell them, ‘You don’t need to worry, you don’t need to tell them what to do. Just sit back and relax.’” Children are better at figuring out how to have fun than many adults who build playgrounds for them, Ms. Faulkner said. And they can also figure out how to play safely — even in a place that looks more like a junkyard than a playground.

How can youth intentionally build life skills like critical thinking and adaptability, while engaged in adventures like overnight camping or deconstructing an appliance? That is the question nearly 100 out-of-school time professionals answered as they worked with colleagues from across the U.S. at the spring National Afterschool Association Annual Convention.

It was refreshing to read that some youth programs provide opportunities for children to try fencing, light campfires—without matches or lighters—and live in a cave for several days. Some of the experiences were geo-specific, like ice climbing and tanning deer hides. Others could happen in most OST programs—use of real tools, martial arts classes, field trips to a pro-sports stadium, powerlifting, orienteering, birding, fishing or nature walks in a local preserve.

New Jersey principal Akbar Cook started the “Lights On” program at West Side High School in Newark to give students somewhere safe to hang out on Friday nights. The school remains open every Friday from 6 to 11 o’clock, for kids to use the school gym, play games and eat. In the summer it is open three nights a week.

Last week, Oprah showed up at the school. Students did not know she was coming, but Principal Cook did. What he did not know was what else Oprah wanted to give to them. “I’m gonna leave here tonight, and leave you with half a million dollars!” she told the crowd, who burst into cheers. The $500,000 donation means West Side will be able to keep their lights on all summer.

One day in 2009, Melaney Smith’s niece told her about children at Alps Road Elementary School in Athens who were not looking forward to their summer vacation because they loved to read and had no books at home. So Smith started Books for Keeps, an Athens-based nonprofit organization that distributes books to children from low-income families.

Today Books for Keeps has three full-time employees and has distributed 450,000 books. It serves 18 schools, including 12 Athens-Clarke County elementary schools, Benteen and Dunbar elementary schools in Atlanta, as well as schools in Elberton and Warrenton.

Starting a nonprofit to help lower-income children, doubling the number of students it serves and expanding it to the East Coast – all within two years — would seem like the feat of a lifetime for most. But for Maximilian Goetz, that’s just a high school accomplishment. Goetz, a junior at Palo Alto’s Henry M. Gunn High School, says none of it would have been possible without the help of dozens of his high school classmates and friends. “I really believe it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to raise an organization,” Goetz said in a recent interview.

“Robotics for All really shifted from a high school project carried out at an elementary school to a national vision of really trying to make a dent in the achievement gap, and that’s been really inspirational to me,” Sylvana Domokos, a junior at Gunn and the board adviser for Robotics for All, said in an interview.

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