Dear OLEEP: Reflecting on an Incredible Year

by Jasmine McAdams '16 and Lauren Chan '16
April 26, 2015

The Outdoor Leadership Environmental Education Program (OLEEP) is a partnership between Brown University and the MET High School that started in 1997. Through small group mentoring, weekly environmental science workshops in the school and community, and camping and backpacking trips, the program works to develop leadership skills and a community in which Brown and MET students can learn from each other.

Dear OLEEP Mentors,

We’ve been together for seven months, and it's bittersweet to imagine this year in OLEEP coming to an end. We know it has been tough ride. It is no simple task to facilitate workshops that are educational, inclusive, and fun (though food seems to work pretty well). We tossed you into a community outside the Brown bubble and threw you into the chaos of workshop planning and facilitating. We challenged you to think outside the box and take risks, and at the end of the day, you have fully proven to embrace and overcome these challenges.

As we count down the days until we can bask in the warmth we most deserve, we want to briefly reflect and take you through OLEEP’s year, which we started on a brisk October day--the day the green building at 25 George Street became home. We were in a circle, trying our hardest to remember names and faces of friends to be. We remember the nervous excitement as we all entered the Met to see our mentees for the first time. For some, this was comfort, and for others, it was a surprise--the first of many surprises to come.

Our goal in OLEEP is to make science fun and accessible. Achieving this requires constant adaptation to the dynamic community that we interact with. As educators and mentors, we have learned that some things just do not work. Lecturing can be a bore, especially after school has ended, and science is hard. And it is even harder to teach science than to simply learn it. We’ve found success in encouraging our students to express their own opinions by having them propose creative solutions to local environmental issues. As mentors, we designed workshops that are personally relevant and tie science into students’ lives. Teaching environmental science can be daunting, especially when the narratives often have negative outcomes. We have instead tried to bring empowerment and positivity into our lessons that have come to encourage us as well.

While many of you retreat to your normal lives after OLEEP activities commence, you may not realize that we, your community fellows, can’t seem to stop thinking about OLEEP. However, it’s more than just trip planning and grocery trips. This position has given us the privilege to reflect on our community of mentors, and we have spent an abundance of time praising the impact that you have had in this program.

As one of you so simply described what we have found hard to say, “OLEEP is one of those things that is defined by the people who participate in it.” We have spent much of this year thinking about the meaning and impact of our work, and you have led our conversations in ways that have critically challenged our responsibilities as mentors. These conversations are evident of our growth in OLEEP this year and we are confident that we will be leaving OLEEP in good hands.  

With love, foxes and agriculture,

Jasmine and Lauren