Easthampton foundation, Mass Audubon team up to provide students with outdoor education

  • Easthampton Learning Foundation awarded Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary a $25,000 grant to provide an outdoor learning program for students at Mountain View School in Easthampton. Pictured left to right: Brittany Gutermuth, Jean Libby, Gen Brough, Jen Fulcher and Lauren Beltran. PHOTO BY PATRICK BROUGH

  • Easthampton middle school students arrive for the first day of classes at the new Mountain View School on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/25/2022 5:23:58 PM

EASTHAMPTON — When students head back to school this fall, part of the curriculum will shift outdoors for some middle-schoolers.

With a $25,000 grant from the Easthampton Learning Foundation, educators from the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary and the new Mountain View School have partnered to provide outdoor green space education to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.

“The foundation is eager to support curricular programming that enriches our school community,” said Gen Brough, president of the Easthampton Learning Foundation. “This type of curriculum isn’t necessarily available through a school budget, so we’re grateful to our partners in Arcadia as this programming will benefit the curriculum at the school.”

After board members from the foundation reached out to Arcadia, Brittany Gutermuth, a climate change education program manager for Mass Audubon, and Laura Beltran, a naturalist and teacher from Arcadia, put together a proposal that includes in-service training for teachers, and classroom and outdoor lessons for students that culminate in student-led projects.

“The designers of the new school created many exciting outdoor learning spaces, and we look forward to working with students to plan how they want to use those spaces,” Beltran said in a statement.

Starting this summer, teachers will attend professional development sessions to learn about outdoor education best practices and topics such as field journaling, community science, local climate change, and site-specific climate solutions.

The lessons, which address science standards required by the state, help familiarize students with their new surroundings, Gutermuth said.

Lessons for sixth grade students include a seven-lesson unit that provides an introduction to climate change and the roles trees have in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Seventh grade students will spend a yearlong exploration of the outdoor spaces at the new school journaling their observations and touching on topics including birds and their changing populations, water quality and management, and gardening.

Eighth graders will be invited to bring a team of six students and up to two adult mentors to the fall 2022 Western Massachusetts Youth Climate Summit, which is hosted by Arcadia as well as the Hitchcock Center for the Environment. The summit provides a way to get upper middle and high school students involved with taking climate change action in their communities by connecting with climate change leaders, and developing a climate action project over the course of the year. A date for the summit is forthcoming.

“When we bring students outside for learning, it increases their learning, engagement and understanding, and also their ability to be an environmentally and climate literate citizen,” Gutermuth said. “This means that they can be in their communities helping to make decisions … and working with their community to implement solutions, and to just have conversations around science and climate change.”

Julie Anne Levin, director of curriculum for the school district, also noted that between the new school’s proximity to the Manhan Rail Trail, the new outdoor classrooms, and other natural elements on the building site, working with Arcadia educators will also provide an opportunity to offer outdoor green space education to elementary students as well.

“It feels like such a good moment with the new building. The intentional design that went into developing the outdoor spaces will allow us to develop a site-specific curriculum and help connect students to the outdoor environment,” Levin said. “It’s 2022 — it’s time we put climate science in the curriculum.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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