Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative Provides Innovative Coastal and Inland Forestry Experiences for Maine Students Over the Summer

Clam digging, investigating coastal tide pools, learning about and raising mussels, backwoods backpacking, exploring the coast on kayaks, sailing, and learning about forestry careers were just some of the activities that students experienced this summer as part of the second year of the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative.

The project was launched in 2022 at the request of Governor Mills to expand student access to hands-on, immersive experiences that allow students to explore and learn from Maine’s beautiful bounty of natural resources. The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative’s first year offered coastal education and career exploration opportunities, and this year the Initiative was expanded to include inland forestry opportunities. More than 1,000 middle and high school students participated in programs across Maine through the summer of 2023.

Through grants administered by the Maine Department of Education (DOE), the programming was offered by statewide and community-based environmental education-based organizations in Maine, many of which collaborated with local school districts to offer adventures like backpacking trips through the Maine woods, coastal kayaking expeditions, Marine Scientist Camp, forestry and logging immersion opportunities, aquaculture, sailing and maritime navigation, urban parks improvement, environmental stewardship, mountain biking trips across the region, paid internships at a hatchery, camping, sailing, lobster fishing, gardening, logging, and so much more.

Here is a montage of photos provided by our program partners:

A highlight and important element of the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative was the integration of career exploration opportunities within each of these programs, which opened connections to Maine-based industries and possible future careers for young Mainers. Maine professionals from forestry, marine ecology, fishing, and maritime trades fields spent time with each cohort of students to offer their expertise, provide learning opportunities, and highlight career paths in their industries.

Check out a 2022 article about Commissioner Makin’s visit to the Schoodic Institute, a Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative program from this summer that provided a two-night, three-day outdoor coastal learning experience. The Commissioner also visited the Herring Gut Coastal Science Center in Port Clyde, a multi-day, immersive experience learning about coastal habitats and species. The Bangor Daily News and WABI television visited students from Brewer High School spending six weeks living and working in the woods outside of Katahdin Iron Works

All programs were offered to students at no cost to themselves or their parents. No cost registration and enrollment were essential in order to ensure equity of access for students grades 6-12 who otherwise might not have had such opportunity due to geographic and/or economic barriers. Scholarships were available, as were stipends for students who may have otherwise spent the summer at jobs earning a much-needed income. In addition, there were transportation arrangements provided to students and families, as needed.

See a listing of 2023 Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative Summer Programs.

Throughout the next several months the Maine DOE will share a series of articles in the Maine DOE Newsroom and on our social media sites featuring these programs, their successes, and the tremendous impact they’ve had on Maine young people.

Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Program funds received from the US Department of Education supported the implementation of this project.

To learn about more outdoor education initiatives and opportunities provided by the Maine DOE visit our website.