Mount Misery: April 12th, 2017

When my father received custody of my siblings and me in elementary school, it was a difficult transition back into suburban life. At a young age, I was very cognizant of how lucky I was to have a backyard, and animals, and access to a seemingly removed part of the world. Living in another congested development, with little backyard, and very busy streets, made me realize how much I missed my home. It was then that I realized that having readily accessible green spaces was a privilege, and that not all children were able to experience nature in the way that I had growing up.

Fortunately, our middle schools offered a week-long trip that enabled everyone, regardless of income, to go camping in the Pine Barrens with their sixth grade class. However, unsurprisingly, when budget cuts rolled around two years later, the first thing the Board of Education considered axing was the “Mount Misery” program. Wealth inequality within my town is very stark, and while many of those I went to school with were privileged enough to go to exclusive sleepaway camps out-of-state, there were equally as many who would never have the same opportunity.

Thankfully, my father was very supportive of my initiative to address the Board of Education. Even without an interest in politics (at the time), I made sure to stress that terminating the Mount Misery program was a classist decision, and disproportionately affected poorer students who did not have the same luxury to attend sleepaway camps. Although I was by far the youngest person in the room, it was validating to have the board members tell me after the hearing that a passionate case from someone who benefitted from Mount Misery was a primary factor in reinstating the program for the following year. Despite the fact that the program is always the first to be ridiculed, I made sure to return each year that the program was on the chopping block to defend children’s right to nature.

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