What better way to spend a sunny day than to explore one of Oregon’s magnificent natural treasures!
IAE’s education team spent the day at Silver Falls State Park with Cascadia Expeditions (CE) and a group of high school age ladies from Oregon Youth Authority’s (OYA) Young Women’s Transition Program. IAE’s Stacy Moore and Jessie Brothers partnered with Cascadia Expeditions’ Brett Gallagher on this interactive, exploratory day hike to get closer to nature and better understand our connection to one another and to the natural world.
The state of Oregon has four correctional youth transition facilities. According to the Oregon.gov website, “OYA’s Transition program provides a bridge from the secure facilities to a community placement. They provide youth the opportunity to continue treatment, attend school and build vocational skills. Youth work on community service projects, supervised work crews and town jobs to instill a work ethic, accountability and responsibility through payment of restitution to both victims and the community.”(source)
IAE and CE began the day with a dichotomous key lesson, led by Jessie B, IAE’s education coordinator. The activity began with a fun intro of keying out a selection of shoes and ended with the young women successfully keying out some native plants, including Western Red Cedar and Douglas-fir.
The young women had the opportunity to learn about the natural history of the area and the unique homestead history of what was once Silver Falls City.
Many of the young women are enrolled in classes through Linn-Benton Community College, including Plant Propagation and Intro to Psychology. They shared stories about school and connected some of their current curriculum with the nature hike, particularly their gained knowledge about plant biology and structure.
IAE’s Jessie B. spent some time helping some of the young women study for their upcoming plant propagation exam. “It was amazing to see their excitement when talking about growing and grafting their own greenhouse plants. They are discovering very unique real-world connections and vocations that might not have been introduced to them otherwise.” She added that many of the women expressed that these subjects didn’t interest them prior to the OYA program. “It was incredible to see the breadth of information they were learning and retaining in the plant propagation class. Some of the stuff they were studying was beyond my memory. They were throwing out plant physiology terms left and right like a group of excited young scientists!”
Stacy Moore, IAE’s Education Director, helped the women identify some of the common native plants that they might see at other natural area sites around western Oregon. Under the canopy of Douglas-firs, we came across Tall Oregon Grape, Salal, Western Sword Fern, and Salmonberry, among many others. The group discussed plant uses and edible parts of the Silver Falls plant community.
For Cascadia Expedition opportunities, Brett engages participants with higher adventures to help challenge groups to work as a well-functioning team. “Adventure leadership helps individuals push through their own self-doubt. It offers many opportunities to build confidence and lend support to other members of the group.” He shared that “using nature and activities as a laboratory to examine ourselves helps us grow in many facets of our life.”
Once we finished the hike, we surprised the young women with S’mores around a “campfire” (for safety reasons, we used one of the day site grills!) Brett brought along S’mores fixings, dry firewood, and carved some sticks for roasting. Stacy prepared hot cocoa and hot apple cider to round out the campfire experience.
Together, we discussed the days’ exploration activities and each attendee offered a personal reflection of the day and three things they learned or gained from the experience.
All of the young women expressed gratitude as they offered their reflections of the day.
“Being in nature allows me to be with my thoughts,” said of the the OYA ladies. “I can see the beauty in everything as opposed to just seeing the stress and struggles in my life.” She concluded that it gives her a place to retreat to for reflection rather than a looking for a place to escape.
“Trips such as these help with personal interaction and bonding,” explained Lori McGovern, OYA’s Juvenile Corrections Counselor. She added “For many, this is a new experience. It offers them multiple layers of life — something to share, talk about, and stir their imagination.”
Funding for this OYA enrichment program was provided by the Jon Diehl Memorial Fund and the Oregon Community Foundation. We truly appreciate the commitment of our donors and the funding support to engage in meaningful place-based education.
Jessie Brothers, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ecological Education Coordinator