by Blake Herzog
Prescott High School’s Challenge Club began just over three years ago, and its outdoor-oriented instruction and trips have been so successful it’s expanded into an elective course open to all freshmen.
The club debuted with the fall 2019 semester after alumni of a wilderness outdoor experiential program offered in the 1970s and ‘80s at Phoenix high schools banded together to create the same opportunity for today’s youth.
Brent Roberts, a retired Yavapai College instructor who sent his four kids through the Prescott Unified School District, says a reunion he attended with others he met through the ‘70’s program sparked the idea “to do something comparable in a place that seemed likely for it to take root.”
The group formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Azimuth Quest Foundation, for which Roberts is the board president. After PUSD Superintendent Joe Howard’s quick buy-in, a curriculum and outdoor-based activities were developed.
Once introduced, the club quickly picked up members and began holding local extracurricular activities as well as trips to wilderness areas throughout Arizona, cumulating in a “desert survival” course where students spent a night alone in the wilderness with no technology and few resources.
Aside from a year-and-a-half break for the pandemic, the Challenge Club has been taking students to Prescott lakes, all over Prescott National Forest, to the Verde River, Mogollon Rim, North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Utah’s San Juan River to learn about leadership, teamwork and themselves.
For 2022-23, it’s debuting as an elective for-credit class at the high school, adding a second semester to its Freshman Academy curriculum for ninth graders.
Matt Dean, assistant principal and Challenge program sponsor, says the spring 2023 semester will include “orienteering, ecology, general camping skills, leave no trace, and skills associated with specific activities. Within all of these there are STEM aspects along with teamwork and being able to lead.”
The program is primarily funded by Azimuth Quest, the Greater Prescott Outdoor Fund and equipment from corporate donors. The extracurricular portion is eligible for Arizona State Tax Credit donations; visit az50010920.schoolwires.net/aztaxcredit and select the “Challenge” option.