Igniting a passion for the outdoors

George Smith always talks about going to school with a gun in your vehicle because you were coming out of the woods after a morning of hunting, to go to school and were headed back when the day was done.  We are in a very different world now, but that passion for the outdoors is beginning to come back.

Waterville Maine’s Mid-Maine Technical Center is home to one of four Outdoor Leadership programs in the State.  With almost 30 high school juniors and seniors, instructor Jason Cyr is excited to see where the brand new program will lead.  “This program is four months old, “Jason said, “but the kids are so excited about not only what we are doing but what they will be able to do as they go through the class.”  Each student will leave the class with hunter’s safety in rifle and archery as well as ATV, snowmobile and boating safety. “I have two students who are avid trappers so they want to help bring an instructor in and get the rest of the class trained” said Jason, “we really want to give them a solid foundation as they get ready to graduate high school and move on to something in the outdoor field.”

While most high school seniors are looking ahead to graduation, the students in Jason’s class have another goal that they want to accomplish before that, “they want to get float bags for their canoes and kayaks and they plan to paddle in the Kenduskeag Stream Race this spring” Jason smiled, “It is great to watch each of them find their niche and be willing to push themselves to learn more and become proficient enough to teach others.”

As a brand new program, Jason knows that in order to be sustainable, he must cultivate interest in younger students.  “We have a mentor program here,” he explained, “8th graders are being partnered with my students and twice a month, they come to class and go through a training that the juniors and seniors run.”  What a great way to build interest in the outdoors and demonstrate the importance of relationships and working together to accomplish a task!

“My dream,” said Jason, ‘would be to have a camp with some waterfront that we could use as a hands-on classroom.  I would love to have the students be able to launch kayaks, hold water safety classes and go fishing or step into the woods and do some hands on work with forestry management and different types of hunting. Then they could put their skills to the test and build their confidence and comfort in the outdoors.”

Programs like these are desperately needed as more kids are struggling with nature-deficit disorder (it’s a real thing, look it up!) and adults and parents are not comfortable in the woods and waters to teach their children like they were when George was growing up.  Hopefully as programs like Jason’s take off, more schools can adapt and bring on an Outdoor Leadership program.