Gorge Explorers (3rd-4th)
Gorge Explorers is a place-based and experiential education program focused on providing out of school opportunities for youth in the Columbia Gorge in order to build connections between community and the local landscape through active hands-on-learning and stewardship projects. Through a 6 week long summer camp, elementary school youth are provided with in-depth learning related to the ecology of their own backyards.
High school students not only act as mentors for the elementary school students, but also engage in servicing learning projects that enhance their connections to the local landscape and to the possibilities of careers in the field of conservation. High school mentors are chosen on a competitive basis and have expressed an interest in a career working with children, promoting environmental awareness, and/or conducting scientific research.
Spending the majority of each day outside all of the participants find themselves absorbing the natural landscape of the Columbia River Gorge and expanding their sense of wonder for the unique region. Field trips and hands-on learning are a large part of the mornings spent with the elementary students. The afternoons are defined by the high school mentors completing stewardship projects in partnership with U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon Zoo, OSU Extension Center, Hood River Watershed Group, and the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center.
The program is designed as an early intervention program for students that are not meeting academic benchmarks, specifically in reading, math, and language arts. We have been privy to statistics showing notable improvements on state test scores for the elementary youth that attend as well as higher academic achievement, not only in the following year but in subsequent years as well. High school mentors have also found increased employment opportunities with local agencies and organizations.
Combining real science, experiential learning, youth engagement, stewardship, and a place-based approach, Gorge Explorers provides a unique crossroads of learning that bridges conservation and community through education.