Rain drizzles on the heads of eight blue poncho-clad Mount Baker Elementary students as they listen to Whatcom Land Trust Stewardship Assistant Danielle Taylor explain the concept of an invasive species. They’re at the Land Trust’s Harrison property as part of the North Cascades Institute’s Connections Program, which works to get students from the Blaine, Mount Baker, and Bellingham School Districts outside together learning about the natural world from environmental educators throughout the county.
The Connections Program was created last fall in an effort to get kids outside and connecting with each other in the wake of COVID-19 and the introduction of virtual learning. At first it was specifically geared towards students who were strug “There are plenty of repeat attendees”, says MK Kirkpatrick-Waite, the program’s coordinator. “The program allows students who might struggle in traditional classroom settings, to thrive. Place-based learning promotes students to ask questions they wouldn’t normally ask. They get to see before them changes in the environment; that hands-on learning is so important.” The Land Trust collaborated with the program, hosting students on our Harrison property in Kendall and at California Creek near Blaine. Mentors from Connections and staff from the Land Trust taught them about forest health and habitat, how forest fires spread, the difference between native and invasive species, and much more.
In a time when so many of us have been stuck in our homes and isolated, the chance to get up close and personal to the natural world offers a crucial experience. All students deserve the chance to feel a sense of belonging and connection, both with each other and the environment around them. Nathan Zabel, the Education Program Coordinator for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, says of opportunities like these: “The Connections program is a shining example of how collaboration amongst various conservation organizations, including the Land Trust, can lead to incredible efforts. Without the Harrison property the outdoor learning would be limited to the school grounds. While there is still an abundance of opportunity there, the Harrison property connects students to a wetland, a salmon-bearing creek, and the wealth of opportunity that can be found in teaching in that kind of environment.”
It is vital to instill a sense of wonder for the natural world at a young age, to show future generations why it is important to protect the land. The Land Trust is excited to create spaces where nurturing and cultivating that wonder can occur. When children are shown the values of conservation early on they will carry those values with them and become the scientists, conservationists, activists, and land stewards of the future. Like plants, the things we nourish now will grow stronger only if we give them the care they require and the space to flourish. With the support and partnership of other conservation organizations and of countless individuals, we are happy to be able to provide both.