Kids Teaching Kids at Wilderness School

“I am writing to thank you for the stipend to Dr. Reno Taini so that he may continue his work with the Wilderness School. His involvement with the program continues to pay dividends in a variety of outcomes. For the students he provides instructional practices that only come from more than 50 years of teaching experience.” –Edward Lopez, Wilderness Program teacher

In 1967, Dr. Reno Taini, a biology teacher and advocate of experiential education, founded Jefferson Union High School District’s Wilderness Program, an alternative high school program bringing together project-based learning and wilderness education. The program serves at-risk high school students in Colma, Daly City, and Pacifica, offering opportunities for learning, leadership, and personal development through wilderness backpacking trips and training in the ropes courses.

Students engage in wilderness trips and ropes course challenges that encourage team building, problem-solving, and personal growth—for example, at the White Hawk Ropes Course on San Bruno Mountain, they may participate in such courses as a tightrope strung 20 feet in the air between two trees or a 40-foot-high-dive plank off a tree trunk.

In a semester, students learn to run the White Hawk Ropes Course and become instructors themselves. The fundamental teaching philosophy of the Wilderness Program is “Kids teaching Kids,” empowering at-risk students and helping them to recognize their own worth, capability, and leadership potential.

Now these at-risk students themselves facilitate the ropes course that all new SFPD cadets take, to build trust and teach them how to work together.

Dr. Reno Taini is now retired, but he still trains students in this program along with teacher Edward Lopez. From equipment and tools to teacher stipends, PVF has supported the Wilderness Program since 1994.

Wilderness student belays a “client” on the Perch high event at the White Hawk Ropes Course.
Dr. Reno Taini, retired teacher and founder of the Wilderness Program, lends his experience to students as they are installing new equipment on high events at the White Hawk Ropes course.
The fundamental teaching philosophy of the Wilderness School is “Kids teaching Kids." Here, older students are coaching and supervising younger students in facilitation of ropes course clients from the SF Police Academy.
Ed Lopez conducts class outdoors on San Bruno Mountain in preparation for the upcoming expedition that the program conducts every semester.
The program's traditional opening segment is a two-week backpacking trip into the Emigrant Basin Wilderness near Lake Tahoe. There, they will begin to establish communal behavior, learning to trust each other, while sharing chores and developing survival skills.
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