Maine school shares online curriculum rooted in outdoors

A look at whether the model can make up for learning lost to the pandemic.
Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 10:15 AM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Bucksport High School’s Denise Michaud Smith learned to adapt her life science classes to an online experience. But she says nature’s big picture doesn’t neatly fit on a student’s screen.

“It’s much more difficult because they’re not using all of their senses,” Smith said. “You’re obviously not covering it as deeply as you would in a hands-on experience.”

Her school has moved to hybrid classes, but that still limits classwork to the classroom.

150 miles down the Maine coast, a nature education center is trying to reconnect students with the outside world with another online class.

“The online is the starting point not the destination,” said Drew Dumsch from The Ecology School.

The Ecology School offers a web curriculum as seed for students before they see, touch, smell and ultimately learn in their backyard, local park, or forest. The lesson plans are a pandemic offshoot from the school’s usual student and teacher programming at their eco-friendly, no tech allowed campus.

“We really wanted to take that terrific work that’s been done in Maine for years and scale it nationally,” said Tara Carraro from Nestlé Waters North America.

Spokespeople for long-time partner Poland Springs said it’s a refreshing approach that can reach students around the world even after in-person visits resume.

“I think this is a pretty good opportunity for kids,” said Michaud Smith.

After doing her homework, Michaud Smith gave the curriculum high marks but did highlight two challenges. Digitally disadvantaged students won’t be able to connect online. In-person field trips may possible soon, but pandemic-strained budgets will likely need more time to recover.

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