Back to School Means Back to Nature for North Dakota Students

Photo Credit: Gerri Makay

Back to School Means Back to Nature for North Dakota Students

Guest post from Gerri Makay with the North Dakota Forest Service in coordination with the Western Urban and Community Forestry Network's #HealthyTreesHealthyLives social media campaign. Explore the hashtag #HealthyTreesHealthyLives on social media to learn more. 

A state-wide Eco-Ed project was initiated by a group of North Dakota (ND) educators and environmental professionals to establish a uniform, outdoor, youth education program addressing non-point source (NPS) pollution and water quality. The “hands on” outdoor classroom is geared to 6th grade students across North Dakota. Students, their teachers, and chaperones rotate through outdoor stations focused on soils, wetlands, prairies, forests, wildlife, and water quality.

Students are tested before and after the camps to provide proof the curriculum is effective. At the end of the day, students are able to recognize how all these natural resources work together for a healthy eco-system.

Soil conservation districts across the state can receive funding for Eco-Ed camps, and nearly 75% of the state’s districts offer some kind of programming. More than 3,000 students participate in the program each year. Nearly all of the programs schedule for the fall, when the students return to school and transition back to class. A few counties offer overnight camps for an outdoor experience away from home. For some students, this may be their first real camping adventure.

Professionals from statewide natural resource agencies are brought in to offer their expertise for the sessions, making sure to cover the information included in the Eco-Ed booklet received by the students. ND Forest Service staff participate as the “forestry experts,” with an opportunity to explain the important role of trees in this prairie state. Students learn how their everyday actions affect the environment, and that the simple act of planting a tree can empower anyone to make a positive difference.

Note:  As the lead sponsor of this program, Barnes County Soil Conservation District received the “Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Education” from the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1995 and was named the 2001 National District of the Year for Conservation Education by the National Association of Conservation Districts.

For more information, contact Gerri Makay, North Dakota Forest Service Community Forestry Program Manager, at Gerri.Makay@ndsu.edu or (701)-652-2951.