During the summer, about 150 high school students from Baltimore and elsewhere in the state will climb rocks, sail, backpack through woods and camp on their own as they participate in the first urban-based Outward Bound program in the country.
The 32 outdoor endurance programs of Outward Bound are designed to foster self-reliance, leadership and teamwork, and they draw participants from all over the country.
But the Baltimore program also includes some activities not normally offered in less-populated settings: The students will be assigned for several days to such projects as renovating houses and helping to erase graffiti in the inner city.
While the Baltimore-based program is new, the city has sent high school students to an Outward Bound program at Hurricane Island, Maine, for two summers, said Nancy Warren, executive director of Parks and People, a private, nonprofit foundation that provides funding and other support to the city's Department of Recreation and Parks.
The Hurricane Island program worked so well, Warren said, that Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer asked her if a city-based program was possible. Outward Bound had been looking for a few years to start a program in an urban setting, so "everything fell into place," she said.
The move to Baltimore has a number of advantages, said program director Phil Costello.
"With so many kids from the same area, we can do follow-ups much more easily. We can get half the kids at one school," he said.
While most Outward Bound programs call for some kind of community service, Baltimore is a setting that will offer many more opportunities for assignments, he said. "We're going to try to make it a very important part of Baltimore," he said.
Working in groups of 12, participants will base their camp in Leakin Park, a 1,200-acre reserve on the western edge of the city, where Outward Bound will locate its permanent offices.
Younger students, ages 14 and 15, will attend three- to seven-day courses. The 24-day course for older students, ages 16 to 18, will also include activities on Chesapeake Bay. Trips to the Appalachian Mountains of Western Maryland are planned for both groups.
Orientation for Outward Bound includes such tests as climbing a 12-foot wall without a rope. The idea is for students to "use the resources of the team to come up with a solution," said Costello. "Everybody puts in their two cents, and eventually some leaders emerge and they get the group over."
Another test, the "human knot," also calls for teamwork. Students join hands with other students who are, variously, in front of, behind and across from each other, and then try to "unknot" themselves while holding hands. "There's no specific answer or one right way to do it," said Costello. "It just forces them to work together."
Older students will also spend two days on solo camping trips, an exercise in self-reliance.
Community service will include such projects as planting flowers in the city and maintaining trails in the Appalachians.
Participation costs $1,400 per person for the 24-day program and $350 for the shorter program for younger students, but most will not have to pay the full fee, organizers said. "We charge on a sliding scale, so families pay as much as they can," said Warren, adding that each family must pay something. The rest of the tab will be paid by a Parks and People scholarship fund, set up last year with the help of a $250,000 grant from Baltimore Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray.
Interested persons can sponsor a youngster for $250, said Warren, with Parks and People making up the balance. Sponsors will receive pictures of their students and letters from the students describing their experiences.
The program, which is about 75 percent filled, is open to all students in Maryland, although preference is being given to those living in the Baltimore area.
Students who are turned down this year will be the first ones chosen next year, said Sally Michel, chairwoman of Parks and People. "Everyone who wants to go will be accepted eventually," she said.
While the program will be limited to about 150 students this year, organizers hope to expand it significantly in coming years.
"We want it to be so that when you turn 16 in Baltimore, the two things you think of are getting your driver's license and doing Outward Bound," Michel said.