The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust’s “Trust in Education” program has long collaborated with the local school system. While protecting land remains a major focus of our land trust, we also understand the need for future stewards. In the face of undeniable evidence that either the future generation needs to connect to our protected lands, or there will be no one to take care of the places we have preserved, we find the programming with the schools arenot only invaluable but also critical.
Our educational programming with the local schools addressed the need to connect youth to the land. Are seeing a rising need for grassroots action to help preserve our threatened waterfront, and the way of life in our fishing community as we face the future challenges posed by the changes we see in the Gulf of Maine. The “Gulf of Maine Studies” class is a unique approach to learning. One that we hope will enable students to study the impending issues facing our community, as well as empower them to be civically active, participate in real-life problem solving. In addition our approach aims and create lasting change by involving our whole community in a conversation about its deep connection to the Gulf of Maine.
Environmental education classes often offered in high schools are wonderful, however, sometimes they are seen as overwhelming due toscope of the issues covered or simply irrelevant because they focus on places so foreign and far away from the students’ lives. In starting The Gulf of Maine Studies class, we hoped to bring the issues of climate change right into the backyard of our students. The approach seems to have energized them, and given them context for their classwork. One student in a pre-class survey stated, “I became interested in this class because I saw it as a unique opportunity to get involved with real local issues. In environmental class, I often get overwhelmed because of the feeling that the issues that we talk about are too big for me to personally do anything about. I think that this class provides a great means to become more educated on real-world problems while taking action locally.”
The value of a class like this for a land trust is immeasurable. The collaboration itself, working with a college, a high school, and the Gulf of Maine Institute has opened avenues of research that we would not have had the staffing to do ourselves. Having the intellectual resources to come up with affordable effective ways to do that research, has proven to be mutually beneficial to everyone involved. The creation of a real dialogue with the community also has untold benefits. The ability to connect with the community about issues facing our waterfront in a non-confrontational way, engaging in real conversations, will no doubt prove to empower our community to move forward together. To me this is one of the most powerful lessons we can be a part of. Learning the needs of the community, through listening to its members, and making them feel heard, to move us forward with a common understanding and vision, to problem solve the future will only make us stronger and more resilient. Lastly, engaging and empowering local students to look at their backyard in a new way, understanding its ecological importance and the complex social and economic relationships that we have with it, will strengthen the mission of the Land Trust, and recruit the engaged future stewards we will need in the coming years.
While collaborations like these are not easy (there are many needs to be met) I believe that it is not only beneficial to all, but also necessary. If we plan to tackle the issues facing our waterfront community with climate change, we need to empower and engage the people who live here. We no longer can depend on outside help, there is going to be more need thanthere is available help. We can make our communities not only resilient but vibrant, by engaging all the stakeholders, building a coalition of active citizens who all have a seat at the table. One student said it well, “I think that the value of this type of programming or type of course offer is very important. I think by getting kids involved in their community is beneficial for everyone that lives in the area."
The saying, “It takes a village” may very well be the mindset that really does save our village that we know and love, making it a resilient beacon of hope for an uncertain future.
Leia has worked in education for over 20 years. After receiving a master's degree from Virginia Tech, she spent 6 years in the classroom teaching agri-science before moving into teacher training and curriculum development for Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom. She currently serves as the Director of Education for the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. Leia's commitment to community conservation in her almost seven- year tenure as Director of Education has led to a greater reach in the community and the expansion of the Trust in Education program. Leia is dedicated to creating stronger communities through education and reconnecting people with their natural landscape and local history, in order to instill them with a stronger sense of place and encourage a future of conservationists.