Student health and well-being is unquestionably the number one priority for every organization working with teens, and we’re no different. However, let’s start with a basic statement about risk:

No one can guarantee total protection from injury, illness, or death. We can, though, consider our actions in the context of risk, which is the ‘effect of uncertainty on objectives.’ In the risk management field, risk is a function of both probability and consequence.

At Sustainable Summer, we break our risk profile down into high probability, low consequence events (ex: minor gastro-intestinal illness); low probability, high consequence events (ex: violent crime, severe injury or illness); and low probability, low consequence events (ex: vehicle breakdown). There is no place in any organization for high probability, high consequence events (ex: Class V whitewater, BASE jumping, cave diving, high altitude mountaineering etc. without appropriate experience and equipment).

We do not, nor would we ever want to, promise a student experience free from risk. Our role as risk managers is to mitigate both the probability and consequence of illness and injury. We develop risk assessments and emergency action protocols for all of our program itineraries that cover everything from specific hikes to motorized transport. Again, there is some risk in everything we do, so we also think about risk in terms of a risk-benefit ratio. In designing our programs, events that have a low probability, high consequence risk profile may be considered an acceptable risk if it is core to our programmatic objectives or omitted if it’s not.

For example, homestay experiences have one of the most problematic risk profiles in the study abroad field. For organizations focused on cultural and language immersion, a home stay is a truly valuable experience and is likely to be considered an acceptable risk in the context of the organization’s mission and program goals. However, for Sustainable Summer it’s not an essential component of our core curriculum and we don’t typically include homestays on our programs unless it can be integrated in a way that reinforces program goals. On the other hand, riding in the back of a pickup truck down a dirt road to reach an organic farm would be considered an acceptable risk for a Sustainable Summer program, but might not be considered so for a language immersion program.

This overview of risk in the context of student health and safety is painting with a broad brush, but we hope it gives you a helpful insight into how we think about these important topics. If you have specific questions about a program, please contact us.

There was some danger inherent to the program. For me, in this regard, ignorance ended up being bliss. If I knew what I know now [when initially learning about the program], I might have been hesitant or may have even said no. I AM GLAD I DID NOT SAY NO. But between poison snakes, scorpions, serious white water rafting, hiking on treacherous trails, other parents might be concerned enough to not grant their permission, effectively stealing a great life experience from their child. Jillian said there were professionals at every turn who trained and taught the kids so that’s what I want to convey to other parents.

Ralph in Gillette, NJ