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SNC professor Katie Zanto wins L.L. Bean Outdoor Hero Award



Katie Zanto.jpgIncline Village, Nev. – The national voting is in, and while we knew it all along, Katie Zanto is now more than a local hero in Lake Tahoe and at Sierra Nevada College. Professor Katie Zanto won the 2011 Outdoor Hero award for her work founding the Adventure Risk Challenge Program (ARC). ARC will receive a $5,000 grant from LL Bean. Zanto, fueled by a great dedication to the environment, has created a variety of unusual unique opportunities for youth to discover their own passion and love for the outdoors. She chairs the Interdisciplinary Studies Program at SNC where her passion shines in and out of the classroom.

Katie is the founder of ARC, a place-based program that integrates wilderness challenges with a rigorous literacy and leadership curriculum. The innovative program interweaves experiences in the outdoors with the participants’ day-to-day lives in their neighborhoods and communities, guided by the students’ evolving internal environment. The wilderness becomes an alternative learning environment for teens, requiring significant self-reflection at every point on their path to their own personal summits.

Katie’s emphasis is to create access, discovery, exploration, and deepening in the personal, daily, and wilderness environments for her students. The resulting passion, growing awareness, and personal investment is evident as they learn to care for themselves, their immediate environment, their community, and the natural world. Literacy requirements (written and spoken) are woven into each aspect of the program to help students not only articulate and internalize what they have learned, but also to provide a method of access for other populations to share these students’ experiences.

As founder of the ARC 40-day immersion program, Katie melded her ten years of experience as an Outward Bound educator, her Masters in Program Evaluation and Curriculum Development, and her years as a high school English teacher. The program was designed for underserved English Language Learner students in the North Lake Tahoe community, and has been duplicated at other sites. Program highlights include leadership and literacy training, public speaking, cross-age mentorship, and hands-on environmental science studies.

Many participants of the ARC program are first generation Hispanic students who have never explored the environment in which they live in any way, including the wilderness that surrounds their immediate community (Lake Tahoe and Tahoe National Forest). Because of Katie’s passionate contribution to their growth and learning, they not only have dramatically increased their access to this wilderness, but have become educated and concerned stewards who in turn share their enthusiasm for the outdoors with their peers, families, and communities.

Katie began the program by knocking on doors of local Hispanic families, sitting in their living rooms, and explaining in Spanish the benefit to their children of challenging themselves in the wilderness. Seven years later, ARC summer program participants have achieved a 92% passing level of the High School Exit Exam and a college enrollment rate of 77%. Most significantly, the majority of ARC college-age students are the first in their families to attend college.

Since founding ARC (www.arcprogram.org), Katie continues her work at the college level instructing English and as a team member of the Bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Studies in Sustainability at Sierra Nevada College. Her freshman English class focuses on writing in the environment, helping students establish deeply personal, meaningful connections with the outdoors as they begin their college careers.

The L.L. Bean Outdoor Hero awards recognize significant contribution to creating, maintaining, teaching about or promoting the use of outdoor recreational space through individual contributions to a nonprofit organization. LL Bean National press release

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