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is to promote educational equity by providing free, overnight environmental learning experiences for students who don’t otherwise get the opportunity.



is to promote educational equity by providing free, overnight environmental learning experiences for students who don’t otherwise get the opportunity.


For myriad reasons, low-income, inner-city students miss out on vital, enriching educational programs that are readily available to their higher-income peers. In the San Francisco Bay Area, while thousands of higher-income children are participating in multi-day environmental education programs every year, many students and/or schools cannot afford to pay for these programs. In addition, many teachers in underserved schools face a lack of resources, minimal parental support, and overwork, making it extremely difficult for them to make trips outside the classroom possible. Experiences in quality outdoor education programs have undeniable positive impacts on children’s physical and mental health, character development, academics, connections to learning, environmental stewardship, and more.

“It’s our belief that all kids are good, all kids can succeed, and it’s our job to give them the opportunities to realize their strengths,” Shawn Sears, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Vida Verde.

For 15 years, Vida Verde has been positively and powerfully impacting Bay Area students’ academic performance, character development, and connection to the outdoors. Vida Verde is a unique program that is specifically designed to ensure success and long-term positive impacts for urban, low-income youth.

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The Vida Verde Program is a three-day overnight, activity-packed experience!

Each camping trip at Vida Verde is a three-day overnight, activity-packed experience which takes place at our 100-acre site and farm, and at nearby state parks and beaches.

The class trip centers around five core components:

1. Nature Hike in the Redwoods. 2. Goat Milking & Cheese Making. 3. Tidepool, Beach & Marsh Exploration. 4. Night-time Hike & Trust Walk. 5. Organic Farm Tour & Taste.

To ensure that the students succeed, the trip is carefully structured with eye-opening, fun activities coupled with clear and attainable expectations, consistency, and opportunities to recognize and reflect upon successes. With this foundation in place, the program is a vehicle through which we achieve our overarching goal: to positively and powerfully impact our students’ academic performance, character development, and connection to the outdoors.


More detail on our core program components:

1. Nature Hike in the Redwoods:

On an adventurous hike through the redwood forest in Sam McDonald County Park (minutes from Vida Verde’s site), students meet a 1000 year-old tree, find evidence of the genius of nature’s cycles, identify animal tracks, challenge themselves on a card-guided “alone hike”, and learn to identify many native and invasive plants. We also introduce students to the wealth of local parks and open spaces, explaining to them that these places are theirs to enjoy.

2. Goat Milking & Cheese Making:

Students realize where milk actually comes from when they get up close with our goats! Each gets the chance to squeeze milk from a teat and make fresh cheese, all the while learning exciting facts about mammals, and basic goat anatomy and terminology. The cycle of learning is complete when they enjoy their homemade cheese with dinner.

3. Tidepool, Beach & Marsh Exploration:

Near the exciting crashing waves of the Pacific, with harbor seals and cormorants watching from nearby rocks, campers go on guided explorations through coastal tide pools. They discover sea stars, rock crabs, mussels, barnacles, chitons, limpets, anemones, kelp, and much more! A hike through the nearby Pescadero Marsh includes bird watching, a visit to the famous “talking tree”, and lessons in marsh and beach ecology.

4. Night-time Hike and Trust Walk:

In a safe and supportive environment, the group is challenged to leave electric lights, and their comfort zones, behind as they face real fears of the dark and of being outside at night. Through appropriate challenges, teamwork, and facilitated reflection, they learn to overcome their fears and recognize themselves as courageous and capable.

5. Organic Farm Tour & Taste:

Students visit Vida Verde’s educational farm, where they meet our farmer and gain a deeper understanding of where their food comes from. Hands-on learning is at its best as the group directly engages with concepts like photosynthesis, pollination, the six plant parts, and organic pest control. Students taste fresh veggies they harvest themselves, and let the learning take place in their mouths!

The trip also includes cooking and cleaning up as a class, teambuilding games, exercise, arts and crafts, a campfire, camping out in our magnificent teepees, and more. The activities are “first-time” experiences for most of the children served.

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Our goal is to positively and powerfully impact our students in the following ways:


1) Improved Academic Performance

Vida Verde’s lessons and activities are linked to California state education standards, and help bring to life what students have only read about in textbooks. Learning becomes more relevant and connections are made in the classroom long after the trip is over.

With a strong focus on teamwork, group process, and communication skills, the Vida Verde experience helps students work together and trust each other back in the classroom; this is beneficial for achieving academic goals, particularly as they relate to the new Common Core Standards’ focus on collaboration.


2) Character Development

While at Vida Verde, students are pushed to try dozens of new things and are given achievable challenges at every turn. As a result, their self-confidence, determination, and persistence grow by leaps and bounds.

Students are given jobs to do during each activity at Vida Verde, and are held to high expectations. This leads to an increase in personal responsibility that goes beyond their three days in the program.

Positivity is a central value that is fostered and encouraged at Vida Verde. Along with a strong focus on positive behavior management, the Vida Verde Instructors are constant role models of positivity in every activity from washing dishes, to their use of educational music, to milking the goats.


3) Increased Environmental Awareness and Connections to Nature

First-time, positive connections to nature occur constantly throughout the Vida Verde experience. These experiences are essential to engaging urban youth as environmental stewards: they help the students build context, and inspire them to take ownership and responsibility. Further, we intentionally introduce students to a wealth of public parks and beaches, and teach them that these places are theirs to enjoy – and care for.



Outcomes based on post-program evaluations from teachers over the last five years are as follows:

  • 95% reported "A Marked Improvement" in students’ teamwork, self-confidence and personal responsibility.
  • 89% reported "A Marked Improvement" (highest possible rating) in students’ classroom learning and science test scores.
  • 87% reported "A Marked Improvement" in students’ overall experiences when they return to school.
  • 89% reported "A Marked Improvement" in students’ awareness of and interest in environmental issues.

In addition:

  • 95% rated the overall benefit to students “Exceptional” (highest possible rating).
  • 96% rated student enjoyment “Exceptional”.

Improvement in students’ teamwork, self-confidence & personal responsibility


Read What Teachers Have To Say

“Each year has been remarkable and wonderful in a unique way. Apart from having a great time learning, students develop life skills such as responsibility, cooperation, and time management by planning, cooking, and cleaning together. The trip transforms them. I have heard many a testimony from parents that their children have returned home to teach them new things; they are more helpful, and they have become more environmentally aware. Vida Verde is truly a remarkable experience started and fostered by an amazing group of people. If only the Vida Verde model was the paradigm for the way all educators teach children!”

- Andre Brunetti, Teacher, Richmond, CA
(10 consecutive years bringing students to Vida Verde)

“I work as an Elementary Science Specialist in the Oakland Unified School District. In my 12 year career as a science educator in high-poverty public schools, I have worked with dozens of science museums,outdoor education programs, and science outreach organizations across the greater San Francisco Bay Area. There is no other program that compares to Vida Verde. Vida Verde is the only one I volunteer my time with and encourage friends and family to support.

While other programs may offer scholarships to low-income students, Vida Verde’s specialization has enabled it to tailor its program to the unique social-emotional and learning needs of low-income, urban students. The impact of Vida Verde on students is profound. The impact is deep, lasting, and doesn’t end with the students who get to attend a three-day Vida Verde program. The impact spreads through their families and their communities."

- Brenda Tuohy, Elementary Science Specialist
Oakland, CA

“Children are different at Vida Verde. Rambunctious kids who cannot sit still get the chance to run and lead. The incredibly quiet shy child gets to be in a small enough group that they feel comfortable enough to speak out. The smart kid gets to be challenged by the kid who never answers a question in class but who knows everything about banana slugs. Everyone is growing and challenging assumptions about themselves and their classmates. It has made a difference in the lives of my students. They all grew and matured because of their camp experience. They found things that they were good at doing which was a school first for some of them. They are all more self-aware. These are things that they can never lose.”

- Adrianne Ahnstedt, Teacher
Richmond, CA




Population Served

The children who come to Vida Verde are bright, attentive, excited, and ready to learn. They live in the San Francisco Bay Area, specifically in the inner-cities of Oakland, San Francisco, Richmond, East Palo Alto, and San Jose. They often come from difficult home situations, tough neighborhoods, and under-funded schools. Many of them suffer the disadvantage of being several grade levels behind in school. 99% of the students are minorities, over 85% qualify for free/reduced price lunch programs in their schools, and none of them would otherwise get the chance to participate in outdoor education programs.

For most of the students, coming to Vida Verde is their first experience in nature and it is the first time many of them have seen the Pacific Ocean, even though they live less than one hour away.