API Summer 2021

FINDING THE FOREST

Aerial adventures and outdoor education can play an outsized role in helping our communities—and our businesses—recover.

The view from the canopy tour at French Broad Adventures, N.C.

By Rohan Shahani, Challenge Works, Inc.

As providers of experiences that get people outside and away from screens, the aerial adventure in- dustry has the opportunity to help the world recover from the effects of the pandemic. We can provide a much-needed respite from screens through interactive educational experiences and therapeutic adven- tures that reconnect us to our world, our community, and each other. By providing these experiences to more people, we can also begin to recover from a year of economic hardship. In the aerial adventure community, we know that the activities we offer are thrilling and challenging, which is what draws many people to participate in them. But we also know the activi- ties are educational experiences unto themselves. As we face the challenge of rejuvenating our businesses and industry, we are now presented with an exciting opportunity: to use our parks, tours, and green spaces not only to revitalize the local economy, but also to help revitalize the health and well-being of our communities. “When someone is engaged in an experi- ence on one of our courses, the self-dis- covery and sense of achievement is

life-changing—especially when support- ed by peers and family,” says Outdoor Ventures CEO Bahman Azarm. “And for students who don’t thrive in a traditional educational setting, aerial adventure parks can provide a gateway to alterna- tive educational experiences for those without access in their community.” How can you connect your course experiences to the social, emotional, and educational needs of your commu- nity? How does broadening the scope of aerial adventures and other activities help to engage wider audiences? Let’s find out.

For example, screen-based distance learning models increase the equity gap, since those without reliable inter- net or home computers are unable to participate. Children who were able to participate saw a huge jump in screen time, exceeding already high levels of digital interaction. The effects of this digital exposure aren’t all bad, of course. “Digital natives” or the “Zoomers,” as some are calling today’s youth, have shown that grow- ing up engaged with technology can produce many traits that are valued in society and business. They excel in fast- paced environments and can switch gears easily between tasks and topics. They can adapt and innovate quickly. However, all of this comes at a cost: Large amounts of screen time for tweens and teens correlates to lower scores on cognitive assessments and heightened impulsivity. Social skills de- velop more slowly, and depression and anxiety are ever-present risks. These costs were present pre-pandemic, but the pandemic has introduced several accelerants, such as “Zoom fatigue” and the stresses of changing everyday routines and systems. >> continued

RECOGNIZING THE PROBLEM

First, it’s important to understand some of the issues the pandemic has created that the experiences we offer can help to solve. Pandemic impacts. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the length of the pandemic and affiliated lockdowns is having a significant effect on mental health—4 in 10 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. The pandemic’s effect on chil- dren is even more severe when coupled with the loss of classroom education.

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