BTLT In the News: “Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust will expand nature programs for students”

Mikayla Patel | The Forecaster

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Additional field trips for elementary school students and outdoor research programs for high schoolers are in store at the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust.

The land trust’s education program received a boost from a grant last month to help support its hands-on nature-based science programming for about 1,500 students and 75 teachers in the coming year.

The education program is run by Cathance River Education Alliance, which merged with the land trust last summer.

“We coordinate with teachers so that what we’re doing matches with their curriculum,” said Sarah Rodgers, school programs manager. “It helps the concepts come to life.”

The land trust received the $20,000 grant from the independent research and development nonprofit organization Battelle with the help of Scott Libby, a local resident and Battelle environmental scientist. Libby has mentored Mt. Ararat High School biology students.

The funding will be used to offer more programs, more materials and more field trips, along with ramping up outdoor programs for biology students at Mt. Ararat, which partners with local scientist mentors to do field research and then present their findings, Rodgers said.

Field trips are run from the ecology center at the Cathance River Nature Preserve in Topsham.

One of the younger students’ favorite lessons, Rodgers said, involves digging up dragonfly larvae and observing them under a microscope. “It’s so much more interesting than seeing it in a book,” she said.

The education alliance also hosts renewable energy trips for fourth graders, who get to use tools like light and wind meters to measure solar and wind energy, “then return to the classroom to read more about it,” Rodgers said. “It inspires them to want to learn more.”

Rodgers said she is often surprised by how many kids have brand new experiences on the nature trips, whether it be their first time holding a salamander or the first time they’ve heard frogs croak.

“These kids live in Maine, but that doesn’t mean they get outside as much as we may think,” she said. “It’s neat to provide that experience to local kids as part of their learning that teachers can build on.”

They work with groups of 20 kids at a time, she said, for an intimate learning experience. “It gets them a real taste of what science is like.”

Jenna Block, a fourth grade teacher at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary in Brunswick, said that Rodgers and Carey Truebe, also a school program coordinator, “do a phenomenal job planning each field trip to make the day engaging and accessible for all students.”

“We are so fortunate to visit CREA every year because students are provided with an immersive nature-based experience that seamlessly aligns with what they are learning about in class,” she said. “Students leave with an understanding of how a grain of sand could end up at Popham Beach after once being part of a larger rock found along the river bank.”

Block said that students always look forward to the field trip, and “are excited to go back and visit with their families to share all they have learned.”

“There is truly nothing like the firsthand experience the field trips offer our students,” she said.

More information about the Cathance River Education Alliance programs is available at btlt.org/school-program.

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