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Outdoor Education Program for High School Students Utilizes Native Plant Curriculum for New Mexico
With the recent completion of the Native Plant Curriculum for New Mexico “From Ponderosa to Prickly Pear” in January 2017, IAE's Southwest Program was in the perfect position to pilot a new summer educational program in the Santa Fe National Forest to field test lessons. Funders for the program, called “Forest Bound: A Window into Native Plants,” include the Forest Service (Southwest Region), Bureau of Land Management, and the Native Plant Society of New Mexico. This integrative program examines native plants through a botanical, environmental, social, and cultural lens. Daily, hands-on experiences engage students’ senses and incorporate art and real conservation job skill training. Botanical games and scavenger hunts enhance learning of terminology, plant families, and how to create dichotomous keys.
Participants apply their knowledge of ecoregions to better understand their New Mexico homes and the plant communities that occur there and why. One student commented that they appreciated learning about meaningful connections with native plants and “how plants relate to animals and the ecosystem.”
Students are trained in native seed collection and cleaning, proper collection of plant specimens, vegetation monitoring, and data collection. Guest speakers from natural resources fields are sprinkled throughout the sessions, providing expert knowledge and a glimpse of careers in conservation as well as opportunities for youth to get involved in conservation work.
“Most often the study of life sciences takes place in a classroom. Forest Bound provides a deeper context for this learning by taking high school students outdoors,” said Forest Bound Educator Dr. Judy Reinhartz.
Taking it further, students examine their own relationships with plants and the environment and share ideas about the power of plants and the roles they play. “Exploring nature up-close inspires students to think about what they see and feel, giving them a sense of place," says Dr. Reinhartz. "They put into words and sketches what it all means to them.”
We also look at how indigenous peoples’ diets utilized native plants and how they interacted with the land, while also considering how current society uses and manages land. “Creating a tangible relationship between humans and plants demonstrates the significance plants play in our ecosystem and a lasting desire to preserve them within their natural habitats,” Forest Bound Educator Sara Digby said. The program culminates with a celebration of food and medicinal uses of native plants from the Santa Fe National Forest and greater New Mexico. Students especially love making Douglas fir tip tea, mesquite pancakes with choke cherry jelly, and Piñon pine salve!
We just completed our first four-day session of Forest Bound at the end of June. Two more pilot sessions will be held over the next year. Students from all high schools in the Santa Fe area are invited to attend this free program. We get the word out through flyers, list serves, teacher connections, and word of mouth. Holding this program in the forest offers these youth a chance to get out of their normal surroundings and learn about nature in nature - just minutes from Santa Fe. Our pilot program has planted seeds for the future – we are excited to expand to other forests and natural areas in New Mexico and to reach more students next year and in years to come. Thank you to our amazing volunteers and partners who have generously contributed time and expertise to the Forest Bound program.