Maine students from rural communities came to the Maine State Capitol last week as part of a unique learning opportunity offered by The Maine Forest Collaborative. The collaborative, created and administered by the Rural Aspirations Project, is a cooperative of rural schools embedded in forest industry communities in rural Maine, which aims to give students in rural communities the opportunity to develop deeper connections to their community through participating and contributing in ways that make it stronger.
In its first cohort, with around 30 students participating last week, there were students from Buckfield, Forest Hills, Jackman, and Greenville, and more on deck to start in the next semester. The learning opportunity provides students with a three-unit curriculum: Identifying Challenges, Rapid Prototyping Solutions, and Investigating Solutions. Grounded on the question, “How can we use natural resources to positively impact local communities,” the lesson invites students to work together to identify challenges that their community is facing, and then find solutions to those challenges by using resources available within the community.
The second unit, Rapid Prototyping Solutions, is what students were working on last week at the Maine State Capitol’s Fall of Flags. The location was chosen as a way to raise awareness about the project, but also to show participating students the impact they have on decision making at the State level, as they work among lawmakers and politicians who grapple with many of the same challenges and problem solving, whether they are rural and community-based or State level.
Students started the day by presenting the story of their community, with posters they made ahead of time. Their presentations included information about the geography of their community, the natural resources present, who they are, what is amazing about their community, their hopes and dreams, and questions they still have. After the presentations, they began working in groups to identify challenges, pick a challenge to work on, and brainstorm a solution to that challenge. Maine forest industry professionals were also present to help facilitate the group work and lend a helping-hand. lending their years of work experience in Maine’s forest industry with Maine’s many natural resources.
Students left the State House last week with a deep appreciation for not only their own community, but for their rural neighbors was well. They also got to participate in an interdisciplinary, project-based learning experience that strengthens their connection to their own community and the State as a whole, and aims to tackle a community challenge that they care deeply about.
Following last week’s lesson, students will embark on unit three, which will identify the economic, environmental, and social impacts of the solution they came up with, and they will also make a plan to communicate the solution to the public.
For more information about the Maine Forest Collaborative, the curriculum, or how to participate in this unique learning opportunity, please contact the Rural Aspirations Project.