The Grit Blog

Making outdoor adventures accessible for middle school students in South King County

By Jenny Sandbo, Y.E.T.I. Volunteer

“Would you rather fight 25 rat-size hippos or one hippo-sized rat?”

Maddie says this is one of the questions Program Manager Sean asks students attending Y.E.T.I.’s after school programs. It’s a divisive question, sparking energetic debate about how students could prevail against an army of tiny hippos (or one gigantic rat). It’s often the first step in breaking the ice between kids who may not know each other.

Maddie is one of two Program Coordinators hosting after school adventures for students in South King County. She works with middle school students in Highline and Tukwila school districts. Her day starts at 1:30 pm, loading snacks and gear into the van before driving to the school to meet students when they are released around 2:30 pm.

Depending on the time of year and weather, students might go kayaking or fishing at Angle Lake, hiking or mountain biking at North SeaTac Park, geocaching at Seahurst Park or Saltwater State Park.

Some student groups participate in progressions. For example, they will spend one afternoon learning mountain bike safety, then go for a trail ride the next week. Because geocaching is a favorite activity for students, Maddie is working on creating one with Pacific Middle School students at the park near their school.

For Maddie, the best part of the after-school trips is seeing students relax, make friends, grow in confidence, and develop new abilities. Many students leave school with anxious energy, arguing and tussling with each other on the ride to the park. After playing under the open sky, they are calm and relaxed. Laughing instead of arguing.

Maddie says that some students have told her the outdoors are not for them – there are barriers to accessing outdoor places. Those barriers can be financial, cultural, or gender based. Y.E.T.I. strives to break down barriers that keep kids from enjoying the benefits of outdoor recreation by offering adventures for free. Y.E.T.I provide snacks, equipment, mentorship, training, and individual skill building. 

When asked how Y.E.T.I could better serve student needs, she shared that students would benefit from the experience of mentors within their community. There is a need for multi-lingual volunteers to enhance communication and model belonging in outdoor spaces. 

She also hopes that students who have enjoyed the program will come back to volunteer after high school graduation, creating a virtuous cycle of community connection and positive student experiences.

When asked if she would rather fight 25 rat-sized hippos or a single hippo-sized rat her answer is confident – tiny hippos, for sure!


Youth Experiential Training Institute (Y.E.T.I.) connects students in the Seattle area with outdoor experiences. Through the generosity of our donors and partners, YETI provides essential gear like boots, snowshoes, and mountain bikes, along with trained guides, to get kids into nature equitably, safely, and have a great time.

To donate, or bring a YETI program to your school, visit

Join us on Instagram and Facebook @goyeti

View more stories at The GRIT.


Have a Y.E.T.I. story to share?

Contact us at
Scroll to Top

stay informed

Subscribe to the Y.E.T.I. Newsletter