‘One Health: Onward & Upward’ by Amanda Montavon

Everyone deserves to live the healthiest life possible, but health and well-being depend on many factors. Our individual health is impacted by the health of our community, the health of animals and the health of the environment. This holistic approach of recognizing the interdependence of human, animal, and environmental health is a collaborative and transdisciplinary approach to wellbeing known as One Health.

Healthy individuals need healthy communities, and healthy communities need healthy people to thrive. The expansion of this concept into the importance of the health of animals and the environment is true everywhere but is extremely evident in Alaska where subsistence practices are vital to the survival of our more rural communities and also important for the economies and cultures of many Alaskan families.

Health education in our schools plays a vital role in our community by promoting knowledge and healthy practices in our students’ lives; creating a ripple effect that will impact our One Health.

However, health education should provide more than a theoretical knowledge of well-being; it should inspire, motivate, and provide practical knowledge and skills developed through daily activities and real-life experiences.

This is at the heart of Onward & Upward’s mission. Onward & Upward is a community-based non-profit headquartered in the Mat-Su Valley. Our mission is to promote a culture of One Health across Alaska, which we work towards by providing a One Health promotion curriculum through Adventure-Based Education.

Adventure invites students to step outside their comfort zones, intentionally challenging themselves and discovering their individual strengths. All of Onward & Upward programs adhere to a Challenge by Choice approach that empowers students by giving them the choice to determine their own level of participation in any given activity. Students learn the benefit of challenging themselves while also the importance of self-advocacy and setting individual goals.

Shared adventure brings individuals together through a common goal, shared effort, and a shared reward.  These shared adventures teach positive prosocial skills such as effective communication, group collaboration, empathy and even conflict resolution.  In an increasingly online world, there are still some experiences technology cannot replicate.

The various adventure-based courses that Onward & Upward provide include backpacking, rock climbing and canoeing expeditions in the summer.  During the school year they partner with local high schools, tribes and community partners to offer their One Health course. A course in which students learn about health through Onward & Upward’s Fully Engaged Experiential Learning (F.E.E.L) pedagogy. It’s a class full of engaging activities in which students increase connection to person, people, place, planet, and possibilities for the future. In the winter months you may see them snowshoeing, ice fishing and cross-country skiing with students.

There are inherent risks associated with outdoor adventures, but as an organization, Onward & Upward has a low risk tolerance.  They place the safety of their students and staff as their highest priority.  Onward & Upward is accredited by the Association of Experiential Education, which validates that they follow the highest industry standards for ethical care, curriculum, and risk management practices.

“Spending time in nature is linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health, and emotional well-being.”

In fact, risk management is an integral component to their curriculum. Students learn to evaluate risk versus reward and identify healthy risks versus those choices that may negatively impact their health & wellness. These critical thinking and decision-making skills are paramount in developing as a healthy person.

All Onward & Upward programs emphasize the importance of spending time in nature and building community. Spending time in nature is linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health, and emotional well-being. It can also spark curiosity and assist in fostering a deep appreciation for the natural world. Along with getting out in nature, students connect to the community through various guest speakers, field trips and service-learning projects. Feeling a sense of belonging is an important protective factor; when we feel we have support and are not alone we are more resilient.

Onward & Upward’s programs primarily serve youth ages 13-18, but also offer programs for adults and families. For everyone in Alaska, they want to represent resilience in the face of adversity; reminding us to always strive Onward & Upward.