Saco Middle School Students Partner with their Community to Conserve Local Land

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Students at Saco Middle School have teamed up with the Saco Valley Land Trust to conserve an eight-acre piece of land in Saco that runs along the Nonesuch River in what the students are calling the “Conserving Our Community” project.

The project started the first few weeks of school this year as part of a ‘community block’ at Saco Middle School where students are challenged to work on projects that will improve their local community. Community block projects range from creating and pitching a dog park to the city, aiming to increase protected bike lanes, doing compost for the school, or in this case, conserving a local piece of land.

The project started with just seven students who were interested in embarking on an endeavor that somehow protected the land around them. The group, along with their teacher Andrew Fersch, contacted the Saco Valley Land Trust who was eager to collaborate and had their eye on this specific property. Since then the project has evolved and grown as the original group of students have convinced the rest of the 7th grade class to get involved. More recently they have been joined by some of the 8th grade students, growing their group to over 100 students at this point. They are now conducting full school assemblies at every school in the Saco School Department with hopes of getting everyone on board.

Gianna, a student working on the Conserving Our Community Project explains more about it in a written post on the Saco Valley Land Trust Website:

As a team we believe that learning about our community and world is important knowledge to have. It is important to know what is happening in the natural world around us, because it affects us. Every impact to Saco’s ecosystem is an impact on us as well.

One of the perks of owning this land is that it will help make a longer wildlife corridor and trail where (hopefully, eventually) we can connect from Saco all the way to Gorham, though there are still some gaps where roads flow through. If we conserved this land it would make it possible for all the majestic animals of Maine to travel through the woods with no fear of getting hit by a car (and for humans to enjoy open spaces too!).

The students make frequent trips to study the land, capturing their adventures in trail documentaries and they have even written a book, The Secret Wisdom of Saco (PDF), a collection of place-based stories. The project also provides them with a community service learning project where they can advocacy for something they feel passionate about and deeply connected to.

“Children learn what is possible through example. If the community shows them that conservation matters, and that working hard pays off, they’ll carry that message their whole life,” said Andrew Fersch, project adviser and Saco Middle School Teacher.

For more information about Conserving Our Community, including how to donate or get involved, please visit the Saco Valley Land Trust Website.

This story was written by Maine DOE Staff Rachel Paling in collaboration with Saco Middle School as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. If you have an idea or a story for the campaign, email Rachel at rachel.paling@maine.gov.