Students in Diakon Youth Services’ Center Point Day Program may struggle in a traditional classroom setting, but take them outside and they are different people, says Michael Savario.
“They tend to be hands-on learners,” says the adventure specialist with the Diakon Wilderness Center near Boiling Springs, Pa., who adds that experience-based education often has greater impact on the at-risk youths.
That makes a recent $3,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that will allow 30 Center Point students to participate in a Chesapeake Bay Foundation field experience especially exciting, says Savario.
“The trips are very hands-on, in the marsh, on the water, fishing, crabbing—it is an amazing experience,” he says, noting that there is hardly any downtime for those involved. “As far as being comprehensive and completely educational every minute, it is the best trip.”
Through the project, named “Improving Water Quality While Improving Lives,” Center Point students will participate in an educational experience this fall and again in the spring. Both opportunities will allow them to learn ways they can positively influence water quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, while also gaining skills that can improve their own lives.
The project's secondary goal is in keeping with Center Point's primary focus of challenging the students, who attend Center Point rather than public school, to change behaviors and their ways of thinking so that they can become productive members of the community.
“When you go on one of these trips, you have outside educators who can give us so much more than we can do ourselves,” Savario says. “While we focus on behavior and managing the students, the Bay Foundation folks can emphasize the education.”
They will learn ways to influence water quality ... while also gaining skills to improve their own lives
Students in the initiative will participate in a one-day field program in Baltimore's Inner Harbor and a three-day residential field program at one of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's study centers, gaining firsthand experience with the bay's ecosystem in a remote locale.
Savario is planning to take the students to the Karen Noonan Memorial Environmental Education Center, situated on 20 acres of marsh in southern Dorchester County, Md.
“Although accessible by road, the center is located in an isolated setting on the bay,” he says. “It provides a total watershed concept, which will allow us to connect individual behavior to its effect on water quality.”
In addition, students will take part in hands-on learning activities at the Diakon Wilderness Center that will demonstrate the effect of local actions on the bay ecosystem. Among activities, students will learn how to monitor the stream at the Diakon Wilderness Center. Students from Dickinson College’s Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring will provide leadership and equipment for this on-site stream study inclusive of chemical, visual, and biological assessments.
The Center Point participants also will be assigned to research ways they can help to “Save the Bay” and commit to specific changes they can make in their lives that will have a positive impact on the watershed.
Although the Diakon Wilderness Center and Center Point Program already are unique in many ways, Savario believes this environmental education experience will add to their attraction. “The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is the best environmental education program in the world,” he says. “They are a pretty amazing resource," adding to the amazing work Center Point staff members are already doing with students.