Wissahickon Charter sends team to rappel down One Logan Square

Last week, Jesse Keenan didn’t think he would be stepping off the roof of a skyscraper. On Friday, the real estate appraiser rappelled down One Logan Square and into hugs from his three young girls.

Keenan was part of a five-person team from Wissahickon Charter that participated in “Building Adventure 2013,” an Outward Bound fundraiser. Over 100 people, including Mayor Nutter and State Senator Vincent Hughes, abseiled 31 stories to help the organization finance outdoor activities and leadership programs for urban school kids.

Highlights of Outward Bound’s relationship with the K-8 school have included a week-long fall camping trip and the opportunity for students to apply for a five-day canoeing expedition every summer. Because of budget cuts and lost funding, Wissahickon Charter’s eighth graders couldn’t apply for this trip last year.

Middle school social science teacher Jon Scherer emphasizes the importance of Outward Bound in encouraging students to meet their potential. “It’s not just about taking kids into the woods,” he told NewsWorks.

While on an Outward Bound trip for teachers last summer, Scherer learned about the Building Adventure fundraiser and asked administration if he could recruit a team for the event. “Actually I was thinking the school would say, ‘No way,'” he laughed. Instead, Scherer and his group raised $5,000 towards bringing back the canoe trip for the school’s eighth graders.

Parent volunteer Jesse Keenan joined Scherer’s team when a last-minute slot opened days before the event. Two of his three daughters attend Wissahickon Charter.

“From the very first visit to the school I was in love with it,” he said. “The staff is wonderful and caring, the space is beautiful, and the academics are well balanced with hands-on outdoor adventures.”

Keenan has made a conscious decision to raise his daughters in the city and expose them to natural adventures as much as he can. “We do exploration hikes in the Wissahickon. We visit the suburbs. We go to local arboretums and parks.”

Wissahickon Charter, a K-8 school with an environmental focus, has worked with Outward Bound for eight years. Kristi Littell, Wissahickon Charter’s CEO and founding environmental educator, said that Outward Bound has helped “students develop a respect for themselves and for nature that stays with them.”

The programming begins for students in fourth grade, when they take monthly hikes to the Wissahickon. Over the next few years, Outward Bound leads them on Wissahickon camping trips, and by the time they are in middle school, students participate in “Insight Days,” where they learn self reliance and leadership skills in intense outdoor activities like high ropes courses.

With Friday’s “Building Adventure,” Keenan introduced a new outdoor challenge to himself. “I [had] never rappelled before,” he said. “I knew that first step off the ledge would be the hardest, but it was way crazier than I expected.”

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