This school year, Downeast Lakes Land Trust (DLLT) is offering a new educational program for local students in the Downeast Lakes region. DownEast Environmental Researchers (DEER, for short) is a year-long, experiential program that brings students to four different locations in the Downeast Lakes Community Forest to conduct ecological studies and raise awareness of the many different ecosystems and forest types located in and around Grand Lake Stream.
Partnering with Indian Township, Princeton, and Woodland Elementary Schools, each 6th grade student is equipped with a personal field journal to record naturalist observations, monitor seasonal changes, and document plant and animal life. Led by DLLT Education and Outreach Manager Colin Brown, students were introduced to the concept of a “sit spot,” an awareness exercise designed to immerse an individual in a natural setting. Building off sit spot exercises and nature journaling prompts, students are also led on trail hikes, learning how to identify trees, birds, and animal tracks. In addition, environmental education lessons from Project WILD and Project Learning Tree have focused students’ attention to larger ecological concepts such as food webs, forest succession, and sustainable land use.
“The DEER program is designed not only to introduce local students to the beauty of their community forest, but to show the importance of conserving these places for public use and education,” said Brown. “By visiting these diverse locations in the community forest, their inquisitive nature takes over and propels self-driven learning in an outdoor classroom that has so much to offer.”
At the end of the school year, a fifth and final meeting will bring all three classrooms together in Grand Lake Stream to finalize their journal observations, celebrate their accomplishments, and form new friendships. With hopes to expand upon this pilot year, the DEER program is connecting future environmental stewards to the Downeast Lakes region – one fawn at a time.