With the 2021-22 academic year right around the corner, Maine school districts are searching for healthy ways for their students to return to school. One opportunity schools have embraced is a new partnership with Teens to Trails and the Maine Department of Education. The initiative, called Wilderness Activities and Virtual Engagement for Students (WAVES), is designed to encourage physical and mental well-being by participating in group outdoor activities through the creation of school Outdoor Clubs. Seed money for these clubs is offered by WAVES to Maine schools serving teens. To date, almost 50 middle and high schools throughout the state have applied for the program. The application is easy, on purpose, to reduce barriers to getting youth connected to the outdoors. Maine DOE provides the money, schools identify an adult leader, and Teens to Trails provides year round training and program support.
Nobleboro Central School, Great Salt Bay School in Damariscotta, and Wiscasset Middle High School were each awarded $500-$1500 to begin outdoor clubs for their students. In all cases, the schools were in search of financial support for transportation and outdoor gear. Ralph Keyes, who is a recently retired science teacher and outdoor club advisor at Wiscasset Middle School, hopes funding could support making trips more accessible for students. “...even greatly discounted trips such as an evening skiing trip to Lost Valley or the Teens To Trails rafting trip present a financial obstacle for many families. WAVES funding could be used as a ‘scholarship’ fund for these experiences,” he said.
Studies have shown that spending time outside is critical for teenage development, as it fosters the need to care for themselves, others and the planet. Spending time outside also creates a healthy mind/body balance and improves focus throughout the day. When teenagers enjoy open spaces, it helps to create open minds that are ripe for learning.
Further research has proven that teenagers who take part in outdoor programs develop lifelong connections to natural spaces in their communities, while also learning teamwork and problem-solving skills that they can take into adulthood. Outdoor clubs create an opportunity for inclusive, non-performance based experiences that break down social barriers and build long term habits of wellness.
Nobleboro Central School, Great Salt Bay School, and Wiscasset Middle High School hope to create successful outdoor clubs for their teenage students. Kim Schaff, Principal at Great Salt Bay School, is feeling especially positive. “We have organized field trip hikes in the past and found many students absolutely love them. Providing students with consistent trips throughout the year will support our goal of stronger connections!”
If your middle or high school is interested in this opportunity, funding applications are accepted until Sept. 17. To apply to the program, or to learn more, visit: https://teenstotrails.org/waves
Teens To Trails is a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit dedicated to connecting high school students to life-changing outdoor experiences with a vision that all teens have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors together.