The Sun Journal reported Oct. 6 that school districts may wind up leaving coronavirus relief money on the table because they can’t spend it before the year end deadline. Our youth are losing their connection to nature at an accelerated pace, yet the outdoors is a resource for learning, engagement and health and should be available to all students, regardless of race, age, economic status or experience.

As executive director of the Brunswick-based Teens to Trails organization, I have two ideas for how to spend the money:

1. Equipment for outdoor activities: Outdoor activities as an outing club, physical education or academic class provide inclusive, non-performance-based experiences that break down social barriers and build lifelong habits of wellness. Tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, snowshoes, frisbees, boots, raincoats, hats and socks, camp kitchen, binoculars, and compasses. And let’s go big: a van for outings.

2. Durable outdoor classrooms and training: Permanent open air structures; wooden tables and benches; clipboards, whiteboards, WIFI extenders and professional development to support teachers in how and why outdoor learning will help them and their students; and paid time for a school employee to help coordinate outdoor learning efforts.

Well-designed outdoor activities address social and emotional learning competencies that students need to feel connected, supported and that they matter in the world. Young people deserve opportunities to learn in, thrive in and appreciate the outdoors so they become informed and engaged champions of our natural resources. When we make outdoor experiences accessible to everyone, everywhere we build stronger connections and communities.

Alicia Heyburn, Brunswick

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