A natural fit: Little Forks Conservancy teams up with area high schools

Several areas students are learning that connecting to nature has a way of helping reduce stress, anxiety and aid in overall wellness. A brand new collaboration between The Little Forks Conservancy in Midland, Michigan, has started in the city’s two alternative high schools, Windover and ACEA of Midland.

The program is the first of its kind, offering 12-18 unit programs on a variety of outdoor and conservation topics. With guidance from Chippewa Nature Center and data support from The Legacy Center for Community Success, Little Forks has made the program adaptable to each school’s needs.

Andrea Foster, Community Program Manager for The Little Forks Conservancy, provides programming every other week centering around environmental education, service projects and promoting overall wellness by connecting to nature. The students will complete the program with a capstone service project of their own.

Both Foster and Little Forks have deliberately provided the first class with autonomy for some of the program design, letting the students help decide the long-term direction of the effort and even the name, as the program has yet to select an official title. This year’s students will shape the future of the program as they work through the remaining units.

The effort is really one of passion for Foster, mainly because she found there was not enough outreach available when she was a teen.

“This program really provides avenues for solace, problem solving and relief for teens facing today’s challenging and stressful society,” says Foster. “It is something that was missing when I was a teen, and helps provide students with environmental education, but more importantly, the awareness that nature can provide the tools to cope with things like anxiety, depression and overall mental health.”

In addition to environmental education, conservation principles and learning the benefits of nature, students also learn about different avenues for conservation careers. Flexible in design, Foster has also used the program for outreach and to provide coping mechanisms for students in need, taking students on snowshoeing adventures during times of stress.

The first cohort of students is set to complete the program this upcoming spring, with more events and activities planned throughout the year. Foster can tell it is already making a huge impact.

“We are seeing really positive results with the first few classes and getting great engagement with the students. I’m really excited to see what we can accomplish in the first year,” she says.
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