This article was written by Maine DOE Intern Emmeline Willey in collaboration with instructors from the 4H program at Bryant Pond and the UMaine Early College program.
It’s the type of overcast morning that settles in a dewy film over lakeside Maine, where the air hangs thick and heavy and silent canoes prickle with fishing rods. At the end of a dirt road sprawls the University of Maine 4-H Center at Bryant Pond. The rustic campus was built in 1956 and became part of UMaine Cooperative Extension in 2008. Today, it is home to the Outdoor Leadership Early College Program and the students who are pioneering it.
Upon my arrival, I catch a man as he’s sprinting out of the woods. He invites me to follow him back to the rest of the group after he retrieves a black case from a barn. I’m led up a steep hill on a rough draft of a path that opens on a dozen teenagers crouching over contour maps. Statewide Director Ryder Scott greets me in this clearing and explains that the students are finding their exact location using points of reference and geographic landmarks. Their knees are rooted in the ground and their sneakers are dirty; they tolerate the bugs with the nonchalance of camp kids on their second week of wilderness.
Minutes later, the group breaks, and the contents of the mysterious black case are revealed: compasses. The students retrieve them in pairs and trail off into the woods.
This is the sport of orienteering, one of many activities offered through the Outdoor Leadership Early College Program. In this competitive game, players are armed with a map and compass and sent into the wilderness to navigate their ways to checkpoints. Like many races, the goal is to finish in the shortest amount of time.
“Ryder! I have a question about trees!” yells a student, sprinting back out of the woods with a leaf in hand. They circle around the Ash leaf to take photos like scientists in an outdoor, worldwide laboratory. Shortly after, the rest of the class comes bounding out to regroup before they head to the lake.
“They’re learning to appreciate the natural world, to be a part of nature and recognize their impact on the environment,” says Tara Pocock, a UMaine staff member and instructor at the 4-H Center, explaining that this understanding of the outdoors is important to help teenagers grow into responsible world citizens.
The three-week college course is offered to Maine high school students through the UMaine Early College Program. By the end of the course, students will earn three credits in Outdoor and Adventure Activities (KPE 265). Scott expressed UMaine’s goal to grow this program into a 12 credit outdoor leadership pathway that could lead to a four-year degree from the University of Maine, and support workforce development throughout the state of Maine.
“It’s experience with real-world consequences,” Ryder Scott tells me, describing the three-day canoe trip the students will be taking next week. “If they misread the compass, if they burn the oatmeal, it’s going to be a bad time.”
As the students make their way down to the water, discussion can be heard over the importance of wearing synthetic materials during aquatic activities. At the lakeside, the class gathers and student Laura Howe volunteers to give a lesson on proper paddling technique.
Halfway through the lesson, Scott interrupts to point out that the students are all holding their paddles correctly by balancing them on the tops of their shoes. Outdoor environments are conducive to this kind of rapid habit-building and learning via osmosis, as failure to remember instructions will have direct consequences on either expeditions or, in this case, expensive equipment.
The class piles into canoes two at a time. They joke around with one another and hover nearby, waiting for their classmates. Students at experiential outdoors learning centers like this benefit from being a part of Maine and immersed in its enchanting wilderness. High school students can learn and adapt to the environment of the natural world, without missing out on the curriculum of the classroom. The UMaine Early College Program allows students to enjoy an outdoor summer, while still making critical progress toward their future careers and education.
This fall, UMaine Bryant Pond will be offering another course (KPE 209-Wilderness First Responder) as part of the Early College Outdoor Leadership program. For more information, contact Ryder Scott, Statewide Director of UMaine 4-H Centers at email@example.com or 207-665-2935.
The University of Maine will be offering over 40 online courses in a wide range of academic disciplines to high school students this fall. Students across the state will benefit from the flexibility and variety of Academ–e online college courses. Through a partnership between the Maine Department of Education and the University of Maine, tuition is waived for students of Maine public and home schools for up to six college credits per semester and 12 college credits per year. Fall classes start Sept. 3. Registration is open at umaine.edu/earlycollege.
Interested students and parents are encouraged to contact Allison Small, Early College Programs Coordinator, 581.8004; firstname.lastname@example.org.