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Great article in the Harpswell Anchor: The Nature of Outdoor Education

Harpswell Heritage Land Trust
October 3, 2014

061714_NatureDayCamp_GK21By Sarah Fountain

The Holbrook Community Foundation (HCF) and The Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT) share a common goal: protect the town’s natural habitats, thereby preserving its culture and marine economy for the local community and future generations. Not an easy task, nor one with a deadline, but these organizations have channeled their passions into productivity.

As separate entities they are each their own continuous success story, and are now partnering to enhance outdoor and environmental education in Harpswell. The Holbrook Education Initiative was envisioned to fund that work. This endeavor includes close partnership with Harpswell Community School (HCS), Harpswell Coastal Academy (HCA) and Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA).

Based on previous surveys and discussion, a consensus was voiced within the community: more outdoor activities, please! A successful proposal brought Julia McLeod, the previously part-time Outreach Coordinator for HHLT, on as a full-time employee thereby expanding possibilities for student and family engagements with the great outdoors.

McLeod started working at HHLT in 2012 and has been successful in working with the town.

“She’s absolutely wonderful,” Martha Burtt, a 2nd grade teacher at HCS, said about McLeod. “She’s responsive and thoughtful.”

McLeod worked alongside parents and teachers through the popular Explore Nature after-school program she spearheaded at HCS last spring. It was the involvement and evident enthusiasm kids showed in her program that makes her full-time position so exciting.

“We all want very much to include the environment around us,” Burtt said on behalf of HCS. “It makes a huge difference to have Julia help give a meaningful and focused experience for the kids.”

“Time used to be a limiting factor,” McLeod said referring to when her position was part-time. “Now, the capacity has grown.”

Where there were half-day nature camps, McLeod intends to have full days, along with more after school programs in the spring and fall and science courses tailored to HCS. In collaboration with CREA, HHLT is working on
integrating coastal-themed science curriculum that engages every grade level with hands-on learning about their local surroundings.

But above all, on a deeper level, it’s the emotional bond with Harpswell that McLeod endeavors to create.

“If they [the children] love the land, they’ll grow up wanting to protect it, and be a part of the community. I think learning about science through natural habitats and understanding the heritage of the town will create a connection of place.”

At the September Parent-Teacher-Organization meeting, the Holbrook Education Initiative was discussed. Many, including Principal Kerry Bailey, expressed the value of the continuing relationship. Recalling a recent field trip, Bailey said, “For many kids it was their first ‘cool’ experience outside. For example [seeing] tidal pools or tadpoles. It was a great kickoff and a great be-ginning for what’s to come.”

Some parents were initially concerned with having large group sizes engaged in outdoor activity.

“I was a little worried,” admit-ted parent Debbie Kelly, “but once Julia got them going with their tasks, the focus was really there. They absolutely loved it.”

Volunteers are critical to make the Initiative work, which is why CREA has offered to train parent and community volunteers to support teachers. Cristine Bachor, a parent and proponent for outdoor learning, said at the meeting, “It’s hard to have 20 kids outside with only one set of eyes, which is why Julia and volunteers are such assets. They make it possible.”

Greg Barmore, President of Holbrook Community Foundation, said that his organization is interested in keeping Harpswell’s fishing heritage alive, and education is an avenue to that end. When Cundy’s Harbor was threatened by encroaching privatization, the thought of saving the area seemed impossible.

“The way you approach impossible, is make a list of what needs to be done, and go step by step; you’d be surprised at what starts to happen.” Barmore has been able to witness a call-to-action to the community and see restoration in the works. Progress for the greater good of the town can be seen everyday.

The very things that make Harpswell so special are what attract visitors from throughout the Northeast. However, the land is threatened by those visitors when they come, love what they find, and decide to stay. Residents are increasingly seeing new developments where woods once stood, and most disturbing to some, a rapidly diminishing public access to water.

Luckily, this is not a town of bystanders, and the kids are quick to learn.