West Paris students help lobby for outdoor education

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WEST PARIS – In addition to pioneering experiential education, Agnes Gray Elementary also produces ambassadors who are involved in the legislative process and bill proposal ensuring that every student in Maine has the opportunity to attend immersive educational experiences.

Last week, Agnes Gray, sixth graders, Wyatt Damon and Lydia McCallister, traveled to the state capitol in Augusta with the school’s outdoor education coordinator Sarah Tim and director of education for Camp Bryant Bond 4-H and Learning Center Beth Clark. Students participated in a presentation held in the Hall of Flags to connect with legislators as they considered a bill titled “An Act to Support Outdoor Schools for All Maine Students.”

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Sixth graders Wyatt Damon (left) and Lydia McAllister relax in the classroom at Agnes Gray Elementary School in west Paris after spending the day lobbying for outdoor education and serving as pages in the Maine legislature. Nicole Carter, Democratic Advertiser

Students stood alongside representatives from Maine’s outdoor education institutions Chewonki Foundation, School of the Environment, Schoodic Institute, Camp 4-H and Learning Centers in Bryant Pond and Lincolnville as the legislature considered the proposed bill.

Senator Stacy Brenner of the state’s 30th Senate district is the primary sponsor of the bill. The five groups have formed a statewide network, Maine Outdoor School for All, with a common mission to create nighttime environmental education in Maine for all students, create exemplary community education partnerships, and contribute to statewide initiatives to expand these opportunities.

In addition to learning about the process that goes into creating the state’s laws, Damon and McCallister also spent time last Wednesday morning wandering the Capitol floor as pages, interacting with lawmakers and delivering messages.

“It was an amazing experience,” Dimon said of his trip to Augusta. “It’s a really great place to learn. It’s like attending history lessons all day. I recommend checking it out to anyone.”

“Being there in general was really cool,” McAllister added. “It was also nerve-wracking, until we got used to what was going on.”

Clark, the force that brought outdoor education to Oxford Hills when she was Principal Agnes Gray and was awarded a $250,000 grant for the purpose of getting kids outside to learn, is now working to expose kids across the state to experiential educational experiences her former students can get. We now take it for granted.

“There is a real need to help children develop resilience,” Clark said. “Especially after COVID when students were separated from school and separated from their peers. Every child should be able to experience and learn from the outdoors.”

The bill provides $6.2 million so that all students in Maine are provided with an equitable education in immersive campsites. It includes funding for the professional development of teachers for training in camps and learning centers that they will then return to create similar curricular programs in their schools.

Maine Outdoor School for All also focuses its fundraising efforts to expand outdoor learning. To date, it has raised $1.4 million to help more than 10,000 Maine students access outdoor learning.

Sixth grade students of Agnes Gray are excited about their role as ambassadors for outdoor education.

“Watching YouTube, it’s not going to get you anywhere in life,” McAllister said. “It’s lazy. You get a chance to go out and have fun and make friends and some people want to stay inside.” [They don’t realize] That there are these spaces where they can learn. Do you sit with your phone or laptop all day? This is kinda boring.

“Children need to learn that nature is really beautiful and powerful. People need to know what to do about the outdoors and climate change.”

Damon transferred to Agnes Gray from Regional School Unit 10 when he was in fourth grade. His previous school had no outdoor education programs and now he can’t imagine not learning outside.

“I would be upset if I had to go back,” he said. “I will really miss being outside. You get more education about outside things [here]. “

When hearings on the current pending bills begin next month, Tim, Damon and McCallister will return to the Capitol and testify on behalf of the proposed legislation.