A Partnership to Protect

The Philadelphia Outward Bound School and the William Penn Foundation are united in a multi-year project to protect one of the region’s most precious resources: our watershed.

Human actions impact the quality of drinking water. Due to this impact, there is a large amount of time and money spent to maintain healthy local watersheds. People can protect our water sources by becoming more educated, putting knowledge into action, and turning actions into habits. Supported by a grant from the William Penn Foundation, The Philadelphia Outward Bound School’s Peer Leadership Expeditions are exposing students to the Delaware Watershed in a hands-on experience that both educates and inspires them to advocate for its health.

Please click through the below tabs to learn more about this partnership, the program, and curriculum and how you can get involved.

What is the Circuit?

The Circuit is a multi-use trail network that connects 250 miles of trails throughout the Greater Philadelphia area in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with plans to add 500 additional miles to the system. When fully complete, The Circuit will help connect people to jobs, recreational opportunities, public transportation, and other neighborhoods, and will serve as a gateway to open green space. Support of The Circuit is being led by The Circuit Coalition, formed in 2012, a group of foundations, agencies, and nonprofit organizations, including the Philadelphia Outward Bound School. For more information, please visit connectthecircuit.org.

What is a Circuit Expedition?

This expedition has been uniquely designed to combine Outward Bound’s powerful experiential education curriculum with a citywide exploration of The Circuit regional trail network.

On a Circuit expedition, participants explore the rich cultural, historical, and natural environment of Philadelphia, while discovering personal and group leadership skills and a commitment to the values of compassion and service to the community.  As our crews backpack through the city, they learn how to work together and discover the commitment and effort it takes to truly work well as a team. Crew members learn an assortment of new skills from communication and conflict resolution tools, to Leave-No-Trace™ ethics and advanced urban navigation in order to successfully live, work, eat, and play together.

Each day, the crew will navigate the expedition route on foot with stops along the way for educational opportunities, games and initiatives, and team challenges. The crew will also spend an afternoon on Outward Bound’s high ropes course in Wissahickon Park and participate in at least one or more organized service project(s) with community partners.  The crew will stay overnight at a different sleep site each night. Sleep site locations will be announced at the start of the expedition and may include places like: Fort Washington campground, the Outward Bound Treehouse, Fairmount Waterworks, Bartram’s Garden, Chamounix International Hostel, Andorra Nature Center, or other community partner sites.

Course Details:

  • LENGTH: 5 days
  • AGES:  14-18
  • COURSE TYPE: Group
  • REGION: Urban
  • ACTIVITIES: Backpacking
  • TUITION: Contact us for details and information
  • FINANCIAL AID: Available


All crews are facilitated by two skilled Outward Bound instructors and have a maximum instructor-to-student ratio of 1:6.  Outward Bound’s certified instructors follow a learning progression that leads toward mastery and goal accomplishment. Gradually, day by day, instructors turn the expedition over to the crew members until the crews themselves actually take charge. Instructors then stay in the background for the final stage of the expedition, ready to step in if needed.  It is hard to define the sense of accomplishment that our participants feel as they make critical decisions, set their own course, and bring their crews home.

Solo Experience

For most expedition a week in length or longer there is an aspect of the course known as the solo experience. Solo on an Outward Bound course provides an opportunity for reflection, rejuvenation, and the experience of solitude in a quiet setting. Instructors will be within sight and sound of every student’s solo reflection site.

High Ropes Course

During your expedition you will, weather and course plans permitting, experience a 1/2 day on our High Ropes Course in the Wissahickon Park.   Participants will learn the proper techniques of belaying, essential equipment, and how to support each other through the challenging course.  Certified specialist instructors teach participants about trust and teamwork while our crew members belay each other for climbing.

Why offer students an experience on a Philadelphia Outward Bound Circuit Expedition?

The Philadelphia Outward Bound School has been serving students in Philadelphia public, charter, independent and parochial schools for 20 years.  Peer Leadership expeditions engage students and their teacher(s) with their peers in challenging environments that develop their leadership and personal skills.

Outward Bound’s program outcomes are tracked and evaluated using an outcome instrument that measures change through pre- and post-course assessments. On average, students participating in Philadelphia Outward Bound School’s programs achieved growth in Character Development (self-confidence, compassion, leading healthy lives), Leadership (goal setting, communication, collaboration, conflict relation and problem solving) and in their commitment to Community Service (social and environmental responsibility).

Outward Bound expeditions are profound learning experiences.


Other skills we will learn and practice:

  • Safety precautions for urban foot travel
  • How to find neighborhoods and specific locations
  • How to navigate using SEPTA public transportation
  • Map and compass reading
  • Philadelphia history and local ecology
  • Circuit trail use and navigation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Communication styles
  • Leadership and team building

Environmental Watershed Curriculum Overview
“Knowledge = Action. Action = Habits”

Through the experiential education process over the length of the 5-day expedition, participants engage in activities and discussions associated with their local watershed(s) paired with the proven Outward Bound Leadership Training. They discover challenges faced by the State of Pennsylvania, City of Philadelphia and its upstream neighbors to provide clean water to its citizens. Students will be responsible for gathering and treating their own water each day as well as disposing of all waste properly- with as little impact on the environment. The embedded lessons are tied to the PA state standards and encourage students to take personal steps that exhibit good citizenry and support the overall efforts to maintain healthy water systems. They are challenged to use personal and group leadership skills to identify realistic projects in and around their school, engage peers and school leadership in local efforts to improve the state of our watersheds. Additionally, students will be encouraged to increase their use of the local watershed and surrounding park system.

Pennsylvania Department of Education
Subject Area: 4 – Environment and Ecology
Standard Area: 4:2
Standards: 4.2.10 A-D

Overall Course Outcomes
Define and explain a watershed and identify the local watershed in which they live.
Develop basic knowledge of upstream impacts on the Delaware River watershed and its impacts on the City of Philadelphia.
Develop a higher level of care toward their watershed and water supply and the ability to make more informed and environmentally sound choices.
Distinguish the differences between human and natural occurrences and disturbances that impact the ecosystem.
Transfer their knowledge to action through a school-based project
Students will increase personal use of the watershed and local park system.

Watershed and Wetland Expedition Sessions
Lesson 1 – “My Watershed Is…”
Lesson 2 – “We All Live Downstream”
Lesson 3 – “We Drop It, We Drink It”
Lesson 4 – “Ecosystem Impact”
Lesson 5 – “My World, My Watershed”