Thursday, June 4, 2015

Going The Distance

Green River Preserve’s journey to connect kids with nature

Cordwood Cottage at GRP
"We have to go further" says Executive Director Missy Schenck of Green River Preserve (GRP), a 3,400 acre private wildlife preserve in Tuxedo NC. Before I tell you about where they are going next, let me first point out a few highlights that are #happeningnow. GRP was founded in 1987 as a nonprofit summer camp to connect kids with nature. Through their unique mentor program, campers hike each morning with naturalist guides. One tradition at camp called the "grand slam" includes seeing a bear, a venomous snake, a turkey, and a deer all on a single hike, a rarity which occurs only a handful of times a summer. In a world where it is estimated that 50% of kids born this year will never see the Milky Way (See our post Creating Awe at Camp), it really got me thinking how truly a unique nature experience this is for the kids. Not only does the site include the vast wildlife preserve, it also shares a border with DuPont State Forest, creating the perfect setting to witness a "grand slam"! From the start, GRP has been connecting kids with nature. They have created several outreach programs such as SEE, Muddy Sneakers and Kale.

SEE (School of Environmental Education) is a residential field trip program where schools travel to Green River Preserve for an educational experiences outside of the classroom.

Muddy Sneakers is a separate non-profit organization funded primarily through private donations, grants, and foundations, the outdoor education outreach to schools local to GRP. 5th grade programs from neighboring school counties spend 12 day-long trips connecting with nature in their own backyard.

KALE (Kids Agricultural Learning Experience) is a hands on learning experience based off of GRP's farm.

Even with these existing programs, GRP is still thinking about what is next. Conceived as a response to the proposed No Child Left Inside Act of 2013, "Camp to Go" is GRP's next outreach program.

Congress finds that “Children and young adults are increasingly disconnected from the natural world around them, spending less time outside playing, exploring, and learning. Play and learning in nature is important to the intellectual, social, and physical development of youth.” Read more at

With the No Child Left Inside Act back up for discussion in 2015, camps partnering with schools could become more critical than ever, creating a demand for programs such as Camp to Go. The Camp-School Partnership Survey, conducted by the ACA in 2010, found that there was still much room for improvements between camp and school partnerships. The study found that “Over 88 percent of the camps were not partnering with school districts on educational reform grants or programs, and 90 percent of the camps were not involved with any Title 1, Title 2, or Department of Education programs.” For more statistics, read the article here

While the most common partnership with schools includes a science based curriculum, the article continues to suggest that camps seek new ways to connect with schools, such as partnering with existing "Youth in Government" programs. This reminded me of programing at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly. On a site visit last summer I got to see the Youth Conference on National Affairs in full swing.

This is a great example of programming that can be created at your camp to promote partnering with schools. Whether it is youth in government, hands on physics, or nature studies, there are variety of programming opportunities waiting to create lasting partnerships between schools and summer camps nationwide. At its core, camp is about youth development. Partnering with schools is yet another way that camps can positively impact today's youth.

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