DANFORTH, Maine — It was a classic sunshine laden day in early October when seven East Grand High School students and their Outdoor Heritage instructor, David Apgar, entered Outdoor Classroom No. 1 of the Harlow Working Forest in Danforth.
As each student took his seat on the moss laden ground of a climax forest stand, Brian Higgs of the Baskahegan Company welcomed the group on behalf of the Milliken Family, which has nearly 100 years of stewardship in the area. New Baskahegan embossed baseball hats were presented to all participants. The outing was a pilot project designed to go beyond the highly successful Outdoor Education Program to utilizing the outdoors in hands-on, experiential learning across all subject areas and grade levels at East Grand.
There were four Outdoor Classrooms visited that day, all distinctly different but integral to a working forest and to the hands-on learning of the students. Brian Higgs and his team of volunteers guided the students in their exploration of forestry and ecological concepts, such as: growth, diversity, structure, habitat, succession, indigenous use of the forest, spatial and size relationships, soils, shelterwood harvesting, silviculture, photosynthesis and the hydrologic cycle.
“Classroom One” featured a demonstration that enabled students to visualize the size of one acre. The demonstration enabled students to integrate math, science and forestry in a real-world situation. Students also huddled around pre-dug test pits to measure the buildup of organic matter and depth to the impervious hardpan beneath.
Using cross-sectioned “cookies,” the students learned about the relationship between tree size and age, and saw the effects of human intervention and natural succession. These tree samples and existing BCO stand data would go with students for in-class study of growth and utilization, telling the story of how forests help meet the demands of today’s society without damaging the resource.
In the other three classrooms, students learned about the unique characteristics of riparian areas, the difference between species diversity and richness, and how sustainable forestry can actually mimic the natural processes of succession and regeneration. Each learning area offered opportunities for students to apply the concepts they learned in the previous area, and introduced new concepts that built on what they had been taught earlier.
“It was a good day” stated one of the older students following the field tour and encouraging, to say the least, to a small band of volunteers associated with the group “Citizens Organization for Rural Education”—an educational partnership builder between the East Grand School and the communities of Danforth and Weston. Their goal is to seek innovative, distinctive and financially viable ways to deliver public education in rural settings.
“Broad participation by school and community, combined with such on-the ground efforts like the foray into the Harlow Working Forest only gives testimony toward attaining our goal”, says President Cleaves of CORE. Cleaves strongly believes utilizing what is so familiar (the outdoors) to rural students and parents, but highly undervalued and misunderstood, is the key to success. Research bears out that place-based education elevates both student and parent belief in the value of a rural lifestyle and a people proud of their heritage; a personal endowment that lasts a lifetime.
For more information about the field trip and “learning in the outdoors” please contact the Citizens Organization for Rural Education, P. O. Box 252, Danforth, Maine 04424.