Friends in the Forest

Empowering high school students to teach younger students in the outdoors


Background Information

Cadence Gamba was born in Denver, Colorado. Ever since she was a child she has been growing up outdoors. She has been hiking up to the 10th Mountain Division huts since she could walk  and has been rafting with her family every summer since she’s been born. She loves skiing, camping, and anytime she can be under the stars. Cadence has moved to many different counties and has sought many opportunities to spend time outdoors while abroad, even when it wasn’t the standard norm. As she moved back to Colorado her love for the outdoors inspired her to apply to the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning (RMSEL). While being at this school she has gotten to go on even more expeditions throughout the school year, building bonds with her classmates that would last a lifetime. Cadence has never felt too uncomfortable in the outdoors and often refers to it as her safe place. While Cadence attended Alzar School in Fall 2022, it was really eye opening to see her peers get so much out of experiencing the outdoors for some of the first times in their lives. This helped inspire her to create the “Friends in the Forest” project. A project where the students in the RMSEL high school would have the opportunity to pair up with students from other schools in Denver, and get to take them on smaller day expeditions. The goal of this project is to let older experienced students use their skills to teach and mentor students that have not had the same opportunities to experience the natural world.

“I feel so lucky to have gotten to grow up with mentors that have inspired me to become my best self and that have allowed me to adventure off and experience a whole new world in the outdoors.” -Cadence Gamba

Implementation of Project

Planning outings that would interrupt the school day is a hard thing to do when coming in during the second semester. Cadence worked on finding an amazing action team that will help and are eager to join this project with the plan of implementing it during the 2023-24 school year. Cadence has also worked hard finding schools that would love to partner up with “Friends in the Forest.” There are currently plans with La Luz Education, a micro school in Denver, to pair up with the students from the RMSEL high school next school year.

Cadence has also been working hard on learning about the best and safest ways to execute projects like this. She took an internship with Denver’s Park and Recreation through their outdoor program where she shadowed instructors while they took schools out on day expeditions, very similar to the ones she would like to conduct with the highschool students leading them. She got to see a lot of the behind the scene work that she is going to need to bring to her project, while also making local connections with great resources.

“I think that this project that Cadence is working on really gets to the core of our k-12 community, giving highschool students the ability to empower themselves and teach younger students different skill sets in the outdoors or having different experiences together.” -RMSEL high school teacher Ian Silberman

Results of Project

With difficulty finding time in the already set school year, Cadence made plans for action days to take place during the 2023-24 school year.  As of now, partnerships have been made with enthusiasm for the project to take place in the near future. A wonderful action team of about 20 high school students has been assembled with lots of excitement to give back and share some of the experiences that they are so fortunate to have. This project will build better leaders, friends, and strengthen many participants’ bond with nature and themselves.

“This project will allow me to make a meaningful impact on kids that may have never gotten to have the experience of exploring the outside and now get the experience of experiencing the outdoors.” -Emerson Ingraham, action team member

What’s Next

Cadence hopes to have built a program that becomes an ongoing project for years to come. Hopefully the connections that students have made with each other will continue outside of the structured time spent and real relationships will have formed. Cadence hopes to pass this project down as she graduates high school, with the hope that more personalized outings will be planned based on personal interest and brought to the group. With the hope of success in this project, Cadence hopes to extend this to other high schools and elementary schools to help build more leaders and bring more students into the outdoors.

“I think that it is really important to show the younger generation what it really means to be a part of nature and to grow up and become leaders that will lead the rest of the world.” -Alison Spiegel