Kodiak kids are putting away their smartphones and videogame controllers and lacing up hiking boots each week as the Explore the Rock program makes a comeback.

Explore the Rock is a Kodiak Area Native Association program funded by methamphetamine and suicide prevention grants. It’s for students entering 6th through 12th grades. Each week, kids meet at the KANA Wellness Center and spend the afternoon hiking, participating in various outdoor activities and learning skills across the island.

The goal is to promote overall health and respect for self and others.

“I try to pass on these lessons and hope something takes,” said Matthew Kozak, program organizer and KANA prevention grants manager.

Participants have learned first aid and basic CPR, bear safety, wilderness survival skills, and fitness and nutrition tips.

A presentation on uses for native plants was a favorite of Winona Stewart, 14, and Sienna Rodgers, 14. The girls said they used salmonberry leaves to remove splinters and yarrow leaves to keep insects at bay.

Stewart was surprised to learn that pushki leaves are edible and can be used to prevent seasickness.

“I didn’t try it,” she said. “I wasn’t going to try it.”

While the week’s topics and locations are planned in advance, Kozak said he lets the kids guide the activities.

“I like when they can be invested in it,” he said.

Julie Rodgers, a program chaperone and mother of two participants, said the drive from Chiniak can take up to an hour and a half due to ongoing roadwork, but the time spent is worth it to allow her kids to explore the island and make new friends.

“You get to meet new people and you get to see new places on the island. I haven’t been to a lot of these places,” her daughter, Sienna Rodgers, said.

“I always look forward to these,” Stewart said. “I’m like, ‘Come on, Thursday, hurry up and get here!’”

Three weeks remain in this year’s program. This Thursday, participants will learn navigation and map reading skills at Swampy Acres.

For more information on Explore the Rock, or to download the registration packet, visit kodiakhealthcare.org/health-services/explore-the-rock-2016

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