DOE - Maine Department of Education

05/23/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/23/2024 06:45

Media Release: Governor Mills Announces Major Expansion of Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative

$6.6 million investment will provide 4,000 students with access to free afterschool and summer outdoor learning and career exploration programs

Governor Janet Mills today announced a significant expansion of her Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative that will provide thousands of middle and high school students with access to free outdoor learning and career exploration programs this summer and fall.

Launched by Governor Mills in 2022, the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative is a statewide effort to connect Maine's young people to the outdoors through engaging, hands-on learning opportunities. In its first two years, more than 2,500 students have participated in programs ranging from hiking and kayaking to farming and forestry.

The $6.6 million expansion - utilizing federal funds - will now provide roughly 4,000 students across Maine with access to more than 100 afterschool and summer programs between now and the fall. The expansion triples the total amount of funding invested in the Initiative over last two years.

"In just two years, the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative has helped thousands of Maine students to experience different parts of our beautiful state, develop a lifelong love of nature, and learn knowledge and skills that will help them succeed academically. This expansion will allow even more students to benefit from this extraordinary program," said Governor Janet Mills. "I thank the many partners across Maine for their hard work to make these experiential learning opportunities possible."

"The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative offers hands-on, enriching, highly engaging opportunities that allow Maine students to explore and learn from the great outdoors," said Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin. "These opportunities connect students with Maine's natural beauty, build leadership skills, allow them to work in groups, and support their wellbeing. We thank all of the schools and organizations that stepped up to grow this exciting initiative."

The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative was developed by the Maine Department of Education (DOE) at the direction of Governor Mills, delivering on a promise made during her 2022 State of the State Addressto provide children with more opportunities to learn about and explore Maine's natural beauty and resources after two years of the pandemic. The program has prioritized participation by students from low-income families from regions of Maine where access does not typically exist for such programs.

Students have explored clam flats, operated forestry machinery, camped on islands, built boats, kayaked along Maine's coasts and in the state's lakes and rivers, worked alongside maritime and forestry workers, learned about scallop farming, and developed outdoor leadership skills while hiking through the woods, and much more.

Some of the 100 programs made available by the expansion include backpacking trips along the Appalachian Trail offered by the Chewonki Foundation, sailing opportunities with Sailing Ships Maine, and a science career exploration program offered by the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education, among others. The Biddeford, Saco, and Dayton School Departments will offer kayaking, hiking, and ocean exploration opportunities for New Mainers and unhoused youth. Sixty-four schools and community organizations received Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative grants.

"Chewonki is thrilled and honored to take part in the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative. Maine is home to amazing landscapes and a rich outdoor heritage that presents a world of opportunity for our children. Yet far too many of those children lack access to meaningful outdoor education and outdoor recreation programs. This initiative opens the door to invaluable learning experiences for our youth. Together, we can foster the next generation of Maine students who will cherish the woods, waves, waters, and trails of our state, who can see themselves engaging meaningfully in our outdoor economy, building their families and careers here, and who will always feel proud to be part of such a wonderful place to live," said Nancy Kennedy, Acting President of the Chewonki Foundation.

"This grant will allow us to provide a team of students with an outdoor education experience intertwined with their classroom learning in English, science, and math. Our grant also includes an educator component, which gives our middle school teachers an opportunity this summer to spend time writing a unit for the 2024-2025 school year that integrates outdoor education experiences. I believe this opportunity will ultimately prove to be a benefit to all of our middle school students in Scarborough Public Schools," said Katie Vetro, Director of Curriculum and Assessment of Scarborough Public Schools.

"The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative enables us to provide mentorship, hands-on learning, and outdoor adventure to youth who would not otherwise have access to these opportunities. Students are already looking forward to a summer of hiking, paddling, gardening, citizen science, service learning, and career exploration," said David Wessels, Belfast High School Extended Learning Opportunities Coordinator.

Maine DOE has launched a new Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative portalto help families easily access available programs and identify opportunities for their children to participate. All programs are at no cost to families, include free transportation, and are designed for students who face economic or other barriers to experiencing high-quality outdoor learning experiences.

The Outdoor Learning Initiative is paid for through the Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Program funds received from the US Department of Education. The Initiative is complimented by the Maine Career Exploration Program, a $25 million initiative of the Governor's Maine Jobs & Recovery Program to connect teenagers and young adults to high-quality paid work experiences across the state. Since its launch in October 2022, the program has engaged more than 2,700 participants in paid work experiences.

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