The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative

The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiatives 

The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative is a statewide effort to increase student access to hands-on, outdoor learning experiences over the summer. The summer program will provide opportunities for middle and high school students to participate in marine and coastal ecology experiences that allow them to learn about and interact with nature through hands on, interactive projects and experiences. 

Grant awardees include: 

  • Herring Gut Coastal Science Center: Herring Gut will offer a field-based, experiential excursion program for students to learn about and experience the most innovative marine-based industries and research facilities in Midcoast Maine. The program will include day trips to several marine businesses and organizations along the coast where students will participate in tours, have opportunities to speak with professionals about their work, and discuss expertise they may need to enter various marine industries. Students will gather information from their excursions and culminate their work in an assessment of the facilities at Herring Gut Coastal Science Center’s aquaculture and aquaponics systems. Students will visit both indoor and outdoor facilitates like laboratories, hatcheries, and greenhouses, as well as outdoor locations like oyster farms, sea run fish accessible streams, and local beaches and mudflats as part of their immersive experience during the session. This pilot will pave the way for similar future programming to engage more and more Maine students in Maine’s coastal and marine industries.   

  • Hurricane Island + Bryant Pond: Hurricane Island + Bryant Pond will launch a new partnership between Hurricane Island and NorthStar to bring thirteen 7th graders to Hurricane Island this summer. Bryant Pond 4-H and Hurricane Island have developed a program for the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative that offers coastal ecology experiences to middle school students from Western Maine who have little to no exposure to Maine’s marine environment.  This program offers students extended opportunities for quality science learning and leadership development on the shorelines and waterfronts of Hurricane Island. Additionally, this new program will generate an exciting relationship with NorthStar, a youth focused non-profit in Bethel that allows them to extend the reach of their programs into areas of rural Maine where we have not yet been able to cultivate partnerships. The University of Maine 4-H Camp and Learning Center at Bryant Pond’s NorthStar program is a hands-on mentoring program that connects young people with caring adults through community engagement, cultural exchange, and adventure challenge and leadership. Some of the program outcomes include: knowledge and appreciation of the marine environment through using the scientific process to come up with and answer their own research questions; working with Hurricane Island’s professional research team to get hands-on marine research experience with aquaculture projects; exploring the intertidal zone using field research methods to collect data; investigating marine debris from microplastics to large scale shoreline cleanups; using sampling methods to collect oceanographic data both onshore and on the water; hauling lobster traps and learning about the biggest economic industry in Maine; increased confidence and self-awareness while engaging the natural world; a feeling of stewardship and belonging that connects students to each other and a sense of regional pride and identity.   

  • Hurricane Island + Game Loft: Hurricane Island and Gameloft have designed a program for middle school students that highlights student leadership and coastal ecology. This new partnership will create opportunities for experiential learning and leadership in two ways: 1) It will bring the Game Loft’s Student Leadership Team to the island to vision how to integrate more coastal engagement into all of the Game Loft’s programs and 2) It will bring a cohort of 6th graders from the Troy Howard middle school as part of a new initiative of the I Know ME program. These weeklong programs will offer both groups of students extended opportunities for quality science learning and leadership development on the shorelines and waterfronts of Hurricane Island. Additionally, these new programs will solidify an exciting and valuable new relationship with The Game Loft, a youth focused non-profit in Belfast that allows us to extend the reach of our programs into areas of rural Maine where we have not yet been able to cultivate partnerships.  

  • Maine Maritime Academy: The Discovery Voyage Coastal Ecology and Marine Environmental Systems program will provide experiential educational opportunities for high school students on Maine Maritime’s campus, including hands-on learning through sample collection aboard a Maine Maritime Vessel, exploration of the wet labs and other campus facilities that allow for up-close experiences with various marine and aquatic species. The program will also invite participation in simulation labs and excursions aboard various marine vessels that include navigation lessons.    

  • Sailing Ships Maine: This program will include two sessions for middle school and high school students with exposure to collaborative teamwork in boatbuilding and exploration and studies in tide pools and mud flats along the Maine coast.  In Session 1, high school age students and teachers will build Bevins Skiffs which are 12’ wooden rowing boats, working in groups of five. Students will learn to row, work with tools, measure, follow written and verbal instructions, learn project management skills while working as a team. The stability allows rowers to exchange places while on the water and so every student learns to row without an adult in the boat. Students learn to row very quickly building their on-water IQ rapidly. Boats have enough space to carry tools for science exploration, water sampling, fishing, understanding tides and currents and basic navigation. In Session 2, the newly built boats will be utilized in the Coastal Ecology program for middle school age students. The Coastal Ecology program will include shore-based and water-based exploration to study tide pools and mudflats while learning to navigate and feel comfortable in various small boats of the Sailing Ships Maine fleet, including the Bevins Skiff and Ensigns. The curriculum will include observing the salt-freshwater interface and learning to navigate the tides and currents, measuring salinity, catching and releasing fish and identifying species of marine growth, sea birds and aquatic plants.  

  • The Ecology School: The Governor’s Academy for Coastal Ecology is an immersive coastal ecology summer learning camp designed for Maine students entering grades 6-9. During a week-long program at The Ecology School’s River Bend Farm campus and numerous field trips to coastal ecosystems (sand beach, tidepools & salt marsh), 60 Maine students per session will explore and connect with the ecosystems that make up our state’s unique coastline. Lessons will be grounded in The Ecology School’s 23 years of ecological, ecosystem-based teaching and taught by our team of experienced educators. The Ecology School will collaborate with programmatic partners such as the University of New England, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, The Climate Initiative, Atlantic Sea Farms, and Wells Reserve. The program will run for three separate weeks, serving 60 students in each session.  

  • Boothbay Sea and Science Center: BSSC’s Whitehead Island School Program is a weeklong island immersion for 6-12th grade students and their teachers to engage in experiential marine science and environmental education that applies their learning to real world and local issues that affect the ocean and their well-being. Immersed in a science-learning and research-based environment, students will work side by side with shipwrights, educators, scientists, aquaculturists, and local fisherman. They will then return to their communities with newfound knowledge of careers in aquaculture, boatbuilding, marine science, marine ecology, and a better understanding of the meaning of sustainability, entrepreneurship, and innovation that will galvanize their sense of leadership as stewards of the environment.   

  • Casco Bay High School: Casco Bay High School and Rippleffect have partnered in the past to offer two immersive, coastal experiences to freshman and seniors that have proven to be extremely successful in helping students to build meaningful relationships with their teachers and one another and deepen their appreciation for the outdoors and learning in the outdoors. Many students, though living in Portland, have very little exposure to the ocean and coastal experiences and this program affords them the opportunity for a hands-on, immersive learning experience in the waters of Casco Bay.  

    • The Freshmen Quest is the touchstone fieldwork experience for freshmen's year-long, interdisciplinary exploration of the question: “What makes a successful community?” The Cow Island adventure is designed to orient freshmen to one another, their advisory groups, expeditionary learning and the possibilities of high school. Freshmen engage in kayaking and outdoor living skills as well as group initiatives and writing exercises that focus on community building.   

    • The Senior Quest is an opportunity for seniors to unite and take stock of who they are and where they want to go. The Quest serves as the launching point for a Senior Humanities course which focuses on students successfully completing the college application process and a senior project. During the Quest experience, students will learn coastal navigation, environmental stewardship, leadership skills, and more!  

  • Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Science and Education (DEI): DEI will offer a summer intensive to students from Washington County entering grade 5 and up. In this full-day program participants will engage in a clam seeding project at a local mudflat (in Molly Cove). Students will strategically place juvenile clams in repurposed plant pots in different locations within the mudflat.  Over the experience, students will collect data on the survival of the juvenile clams in the various pot types and locations. The goal is for students to see and understand the impact that clam predators like the invasive green crab have on clam survival and growth. Throughout the course of the experiment, students will learn how to accurately record scientific data, properly take core samples of sediment near their experimental set-up, view samples under a microscope, and much more. Students will also design and test hypotheses and practice their critical thinking skills. On the final day of camp, students will present their findings (methods, data, and conclusions) to an audience to practice their science communication skills.  

  • In addition, DEI will offer six sessions throughout the summer focusing on different outdoor lessons and skills. Each session will be centered around fieldwork done at DEI’s nearby rocky shore. Session topics will be: A comparative microscopic analysis of the saltwater algae grown in DEI’s labs to saltwater samples of naturally occurring algae in local coastal waters; a study of the gastropod species found at three different tidal levels; a transect and quadrat survey of the number, size, and sex of invasive green crabs found at one or more tidal levels; a seaweed analysis protocol to assess the growth and abundance of rockweed at two tidal level; the use of equipment to collect the temperature, pH, and salinity of saltwater samples at three different locations on DEI’s campus; and an examination of tidal pool and rock scrapings to examine under compound microscopes. Through these additional sessions, students will learn how to do cell counts, make wet slides, collect samples, practice observational skills, determine seaweed age and phenophase, learn/review proper use of compound microscopes, follow scientific protocols, and use testing equipment.  

  • Herring Gut Coastal Science Center: HGCS will expand their existing Junior Marine Scientist Program to offer additional time and space for students to participate. In the Junior Marine Scientist Program, participants gain a unique perspective on the marine environment and marine career pathways in Midcoast Maine. Students entering grades 6-8 will have the opportunity to explore Maine’s coastal ecology through this weeklong program where participants will conduct field experiments, explore aquaculture and aquaponics, and learn about marine organisms and ecosystems that are unique to Maine. The program also provides leadership opportunities and familiarizes students to marine industry career pathways. Sessions will be offered in both July and August.   

  • Hurricane Island Foundation: Hurricane Island Foundation will expand its Penobscot Bay Leadership Collaborative. This program offers students extended opportunities for quality science learning and leadership development on the shorelines and waterfronts of Hurricane Island this summer. Expansion of this program will strengthen existing relationships with other local youth focused non-profits and allow the program to extend its mentorship of students into the school year, increasing the amount of hands-on nature based learning beyond the singular summer experience and creating opportunities for students to engage their peers and classmates in student lead, community-focused, sustainability projects. PBLC serves 6-8 grade students, teachers, and community members from schools in Lincolnville and Knox County including Vinalhaven School, North Haven Community School, St. George Elementary School, Oceanside Middle School, Camden Rockport Middle School, Lincolnville Central School, Hope Elementary, Appleton Village School, Medomak Middle School, and Troy Howard Middle School. The 14-day summer intensive serves middle school students directly, while the new student-led projects implemented in the fall will serve a broader constituency of teachers, administrators, and community members. This year, the program is targeting female identifying middle school students from our partners schools.  

  • Laudholm Trust: Weeklong program for first generation, immigrant and refugee, female-identifying students from Portland Public Schools. During the four-day immersive camp, young women from Portland will explore the Wells Reserve as their home base for learning about science and nature on Southern Maine’s coast. Here they will visit the beach, take part in a lesson on the marsh, and spend time nature journaling. Towards the end of the week, the group will take to the water and kayak on the Little River.  The Wells Reserve research team will lead activities at the Wells Harbor dock including pulling up crab traps, exploring pilings for marine invasive species, and learning about our System-Wide Monitoring Program station. Research Associate, Laura Crane will meet with the group and share about her career path as a female scientist.  Several guest presenters will introduce a mix of fun and educational topics to the group.  

  • Rippleffect: Rippleffect is an environmental and wilderness education organization located on Cow Island in Casco Bay. Their goal is to be a no-barrier program of access to outdoor learning experiences for all Maine youth. All of Rippleffect's programs work to lower the financial and cultural barriers that exist in accessing life-changing experiences in the outdoors. Through the Initiative, Rippleefect plans to expand two existing programs: 1. Coastal Vital Signs Study, which is an inter-tidal zone curriculum designed by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. In this program, students explore Cow Island shorelines & tidal pools to search for sea life which provides information on the changing ecology of the bay. Students learn to identify species and to determine which are endemic, invasive, and learn about the environmental impacts of changing marine life, and; 2. Expansion of scholarship opportunities for underserved Maine youth to attend outdoor summer programs. Rippleffect provides over $80,000 in scholarships to attend summer programs each season. In 2022, the goal is to grow scholarship support to $100,000 to support additional staff and program materials to make this possible.  

  • Sailing Ships Maine: Sailing Ships Maine is offering students from grades 6-12 the opportunity to sail aboard a seaworthy commercial training ship as an active member of the crew learning: 1) sail handling and ship steering; 2) watch standing and monitoring ship health; 3) safety procedures and equipment; 4) coastal navigation and piloting; 5) marlinspike, bosunry, ropework, line handling; 6) observation of weather at sea; and 7) STEM subjects - marine engineering, basic marine biology, the math of navigation. Through this hands-on experience and necessity of 24/7 operations, sail trainees are engaged, they are needed, and they are fully immersed as an essential part of operations on the vessel at sea. Students will eat, sleep, sail and live aboard the Schooner for 5 nights and 6 days while exploring the Coast of Maine, islands and inlets. Students will take part in daily “classes” including marine ecology, maritime history, and sail training.  

  • Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park: The Schoodic Institute will engage 2,000 Maine students in summer day programs and up to 200 additional Maine students in our acclaimed multi-day immersive outdoor Schoodic Education Adventure (SEA) program. Schoodic Institute’s outdoor, hands-on coastal education programs encourage students to learn, discover, understand, and solve problems by experimenting and evaluating possible solutions. Curriculum-based outdoor education on the rugged coast of Maine offers an unparalleled experience for students and an exciting way to build science literacy and enthusiasm. These experiential learning opportunities are designed based upon our science efforts to provide critical information for managing coastal resources, and to increase public understanding and appreciation for science and nature. No-cost to low-cost programs and associated scholarships lower barriers for under-resourced schools and low-income families to participate in meaningful education opportunities. Furthermore, living-wage internship positions created through this project will be springboards for bright careers in outdoor education in Maine.   

  • University of Maine System (4-H Blueberry Cove & Tanglewood): University of Maine Cooperative Extension summer camps at Blueberry Cove and Tanglewood have been bringing youth to the Maine coast for decades and support from the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative will allow the programs to expand their capacity and enhance their current offerings. These programs provide affordable, nature-based experiences for youth from every county in Maine. Over 300 youth from across Maine will benefit from this program with 50 new camp scholarships being created. For these programs, emphasis is placed on community living, costal ecology, sustainable agriculture with campers working in and snacking from the 1/2-acre organic veggie garden and exploring the twenty-five acres overlooking Tenants Harbor. Blueberry Cove includes 1400 feet of protected ocean frontage, sleeping cabins nestled in a mature spruce forest, meadows, gardens, a fleet of boats, and spectacular field trips within 10 minutes of camp. Participants will be exposed to a myriad of outdoor activities, career possibilities along Maine’s Midcoast.