Idahoans love summer. Extra-long days bring plenty of opportunity to enjoy the state’s great outdoors, whether on a lake, a mountain trail, or in your own back yard.
Although many Idaho educators get the summer off, it’s a good season to reflect on what you’re doing to take advantage of Idaho’s incredible outdoor classrooms, no matter what subject you teach. This is something that teachers like Dick Jordan of Timberline High School in Boise and Fonda Mondoux-Stewart of John Brown Elementary School in Rathdrum do all year long.
While a teacher in the Jerome School District in in 1990, Jordan founded Idaho’s first TREE Club: Teens Restoring Earth’s Environment. These days, the Timberline High branch of TREE stands for Teens Reconnecting to Earth Experiences, because Jordan says he wanted to shift the emphasis toward enjoying the outdoors. In fact, he created the Be Outside Day now marked in Idaho each spring.
Yet Jordan’s passion for activism remains strong. He is the Idaho Education Association’s designated respresentative to the panel drawing up Idaho’s Environmental Literacy Plan, and after a meeting in March, he wrote on his Facebook page that although it’s easy to get caught up in education policy battles and be demoralized by the slow economic recovery, “we must keep reminding ourselves that countless people are doing phenomenal things to inspire young people to spend more time outdoors and protect our shared environment.”
Although Jordan has taken his students as far afield as Ecuador, he emphasizes close-by opportunities to experience the outdoors, as well as for high schoolers to mentor younger students. Timberline students go to nearby elementary schools on their lunch hour to teach about water conservation or lead scavenger hunts for plants and insects on the school grounds.
In North Idaho, Mondoux-Stewart also knows you don’t have to go far to help students discover the outdoors. In addition to the standard recycling bin, her classroom boasts a worm composting bin for food scraps from John Brown Elementary’s healthy snacks program. The compost goes to help sustain a community garden that Mondoux-Stewart and John Brown Elementary’s Go Green Club got permission to plant in 2010 in a vacant lot next to the Rathdrum Parks and Recreation office.
With a great view of Rathdrum Mountain in the background, the garden features themed areas including butterflies and bees, scents, touch, wildflowers, and edibles. Students – who will help Stewart tend the garden this summer – are able to harvest some of the produce, including rhubarb and pumpkins, for their own use, but most of it goes to the local food bank.
Many Idaho teachers are familiar with such programs as Project WILD from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Project Learning Tree from the Idaho Forest Products Commission, and Project WET (Water Education for Teachers). The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission also offer workshops and resources. Together, these groups produce “EarthTracks,” an environmental education newsletter for Idaho teachers. Find copies of the current and back issues at http://www.idahoforests.org/news.htm
But as much as there is to learn in Idaho, there’s a wider world to explore, too. Sean Bierle and his wife, Kristin, started the Alzar School to help high-school students develop outdoor skills and global citizenship in such far-flung settings as the rivers of Chile. “The Andes are not that different from the Rockies,” Sean Bierle says, “but the culture is totally different.” By experiencing remote South America, students can learn what it’s like – for example – to have to hire a team of oxen to pull out a truck stuck in sand or to find protein-rich snacks without an aisle full of energy bars at the grocery store. Bierle recently left his chemistry teaching post at Boise High School to develop the Alzar School on a full-time basis as an accredited year-round high school with its headquarters in Idaho. See www.alzarschool.com for more information.
Five things you can do this summer …
Whether you help students build a community garden or take them adventuring abroad, you encourage Idaho’s children to know that there’s a wide world to explore. It’s fun to unplug, dig in the dirt, and experience nature firsthand.
1) Attend a workshop. You can find listings in the EarthTracks newsletter. Cool offerings include a Teachers’ Food and Farm Tour and “WILD About Bears” at Harriman State Park.
2) Mark your calendar for March 2-3, 2012. That’s the 12th Annual Idaho Environmental Education Conference in Boise.
3) Read a book. Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv helped ignite a movement toward saving children from what Louv called “nature-deficit disorder.” His new book, The Nature Principle, extends that concept to people of all ages.
4) Along those lines, enjoy some time outside. You can’t help children appreciate the outdoors if you don’t make time to do it yourself.
5) Share your stories and ideas. On July 6, we’ll post this article on our Facebook page at facebook.com/idahoea. Join us that day on Facebook for a discussion of outdoor education in Idaho: your favorite resources, what’s working, and what could be done better. (Miss the discussion? You can still add comments.)
While you’re online, you might also check out some of these websites and stories:
TREE trunk.org, Dick Jordan’s portal for his various projects and ideas for environmental education
Be Outside, Idaho, a website encouraging Idahoans of all ages to find their place outdoors.
Madelaine Love, an Idaho Falls teacher who brings the outdoors into her classroom and vice versa