Science teacher Nicole Ager took part in A Forest for Every Classroom, hosted by the Children’s Forest Network, over March 7-8. Ager spent the weekend backpacking in Northeast Georgia with other educators, brainstorming how to get their students outside to learn.
According to the National Park Service website, a Forest for Every Classroom (FFEC) is an award-winning professional development program for K-12 teachers of all disciplines, offering stimulating, thought-provoking experiences designed to refresh teachers’ minds and passion for their work. Across habitats and through the seasons, educators learn how to "read", teach and explore place-based learning. Place-based education helps students learn about and connect to their place through real-world field experiences and on-going classroom work. At the heart of FFEC is the belief that students who are immersed in the interdisciplinary study of their place will be more eager to learn about and be involved in the stewardship of their communities and surrounding lands.
Several local groups such as the Greening Youth Foundation, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the local US Forest Service (Chattahoochee-Oconee branch), the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club and individuals like Delia Clark, a Place-based Service Learning specialist, have partnered together to form the Children’s Forest Network. This network empowers local teachers to get their students outside to learn, explore, and enjoy the mountains.
Ager’s group gathered at Amicalola Falls State Park to learn about Place-based Service Learning (PSL) and to connect with partners who can help educators use PSL in their classrooms. The first morning, the group learned about one another and the six principles of PSL. They then hiked to the Hike Inn while brainstorming how to bring what they just learned of PSL to their students and continued to work late into the night. The next day, they woke up at sunrise and continued to collaborate as they made the trek back to Amicalola Falls State Park.
“Our focus was trying to figure out how to facilitate rewarding experiences for students in which they would get outside in their community and feel empowered to complete a real task, utilizing their community and skills from the classroom,” explained Ager.
“It was a truly rewarding experience to be around so many people who care that much about children and developing them to be productive and appreciative contributors to society and protectors of the Earth,” said Ager. “As we went around the room sharing the foundation we were coming from in our school, I had to take a minute of gratitude when reflecting on the innovative work my coworkers here at Rabun Gap already do, whether it’s Mr. Malot facilitating projects between the students and Macon County Beekeepers Association, Tennessee Valley Authority, and MainSpring, or Ms. Buice and Dr. Chaves paving the way for the sophomore class to work together on The World Peace Game. We truly are leading the way, and I was thankful that I could share ideas and help other teachers are the workshop brainstorm what to bring to their school.”