Outdoor Education Capturing Attention, Inspiring South Canton Scholars

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., April 18, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — National Environmental Education Week begins Friday and one National Heritage Academies‘ (NHA) school is embracing the outdoors, making it a priority to learn outside.

South Canton Scholars has emphasized learning with nature instead of about it. The school’s Outdoor Education Program has guided scholars to academic excellence and promoted interest in nature. After two years of implementation, both scholars and educators alike are feeling the impact of taking the classroom outside.

Principal Dana Gurganus said the program has been a great way to get scholars outside and noted numerous positive factors about the South Canton Outdoor Education Program.

“I think that the program is important, and I think with all the technology and things that have happened after COVID, students and kids no longer play outside like they used to,” Gurganus said. “Providing kids with an opportunity to get outside, it’s just good growth and development. It’s also good for your mental health, and post-COVID, it was a great opportunity for kids to have an outlet to get out in nature.”

While the South Canton Outdoor Education Program is an overwhelming success for Gurganus and her leadership team, scholars also bought in to the unique learning experience.

“Our kids love to go outside,” Gurganus said. “It’s always their favorite thing to do. They cannot wait to get outside. It doesn’t matter what the weather is, our kids will go outside.”

Nature has been the best visual aid for learning, rain or shine. Scholars have learned about leaves changing colors, camouflaging, pollination, water systems, and much more with their outdoor classroom providing real-life examples. Other projects have included launching pumpkins and hatching baby ducks.

The program isn’t just a part of the school, it is embedded with lesson plans. One of the goals Gurganus hoped for when implementing outdoor education was for each class to go outside for 15 minutes per day. Scholars and teachers use the school’s back property filled with an active waterway, the Lower River Rouge, and outdoor desks have been installed, as well.

The thirst for environmental learning was so strong that the school began offering a new class this year: environmental engineering. Library Technology Specialist Laura Hurn teaches the extraordinary elective, and she says she has seen students engage with the material at a high level.

“When outdoor education happens, it flips the roles of students and teachers,” Hurn said. “Students are wanting to ask a lot of questions and really drive the conversation. It’s a lot less of me talking and a lot more of them observing, talking, and analyzing to come up with these questions and answers on their own.”

With students in the driver’s seat of their own education, it’s no wonder South Canton has outperformed the local district for eight of the last 10 years.

The new environmental engineering class has inspired scholars to work toward careers in the natural environment industry, and that ambition started with lessons that are as simple as sampling water.

“I explain to them that doing some of the things in these lessons relates to actual jobs,” Hurn said. “To them, they think they’re playing and don’t understand there is engineering behind it. There’s math and science behind it. When they realize they could do this for the rest of their life, they’re super excited.”

National Heritage Academies (NHA) is a network of 101 tuition-free, public charter schools across nine states, serving more than 68,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.

SOURCE National Heritage Academies

National Heritage Academies (PRNewsfoto/National Heritage Academies)

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