A new program in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, hopes to help area kids learn more about their home region and how interconnected the natural world is with their lives.
The first St. Croix International Waterway Commission (SCIWC) Outdoor Education Program is planned for Spring 2021. Targeted at fifth-graders, the purpose is to teach children in St. Stephen how to be good stewards of the land and waters around the St. Croix River.
As the educational program involves face-to-face interaction with children, the program start may be delayed to ensure a healthy roll-out and comply with Canadian COVID-19 restrictions.
Maine’s grant-funded program (via the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund) is called “In My Back Yard: Connecting Children to Local Outdoor Resources in the St. Croix River Valley,” and was developed in part by the SWIWC, said Elizabeth Hyslop, executive director of the waterway commission.
The program seeks to connect children in grades five through eight in Calais to the natural resources in the region by providing them with multiple full-day outdoor experiences that focus on stewardship of the St. Croix River watershed, water quality data collection, local outdoor history and outdoor recreation ethics. But no similar program existed in New Brunswick, Hyslop said.
With support from the IJC’s International Watersheds Initiative and St. Croix River Watershed Board, Hyslop’s organization started working in July 2020 to develop a Canadian version of the program for the fifth graders of St. Stephen and Milltown Elementary Schools of the Anglo-South School District of New Brunswick. Hyslop said an initial curriculum was drawn up and tested at the Spednic Lake Provincial Park Campground in August, with four one-day camps for children ages 6-10. The themes of the camp were: Thriving is the New Surviving, Zombie Apocalypse Survival, Wings & Things, and Nature’s Canvas. Each camp had between three and seven children registered.
Based on observations made in these sessions, the full school curriculum was developed, although plans to roll it out in earnest in December were halted as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.
Hyslop anticipates that between the two schools, around 100 students will be involved in the program this spring. The New Brunswick version features similar outdoor skills as the Maine program, along with additions such as nature mapping and water sampling.
“The students will go to local parks and participate in sessions, and each session will be run approximately five times to accommodate class bubbles as required for the pandemic,” Hyslop said.
They will learn through interactive exercises on the themes of: Trade & Consequences – Exploring Our Indigenous History, Snowshoe and Winter Survival, St. Croix Raindrop Adventure, Tree Detectives and Carbon Sinks, and Orienteering – Map & Compass, and Emergency Preparedness.
“They will identify the different tree species, learn to read a map, snowshoe and more,” she added. “We bought water quality testing kits for the students to do their own testing, and we hope to expand the program to other grades.”
The waterway commission also is working with the Peskotomuhkati Nation to complete the part of the curriculum that deals with the history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in the St. Croix River area. It will include information on what life was like before Europeans arrived, the early history of contact between the Peskotomuhkati people and European colonists, and what has happened in the region since then.
Over the long term, Hyslop said the St. Croix International Waterway Commission hopes to hand over the program to other educators. Organizers are currently looking into partnerships with others offering similar content for their input and ideas.
“We want to ensure (the educational curriculum) was developed for the community, and that we could get it tested, developed and launched, and find other parties to keep it going,” Hyslop said.
The waterway commission will host the final curriculum on its website, www.stcroix.org, making it available to educators and the community, for their own usage to fit their respective areas.
Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.