Marissa Wells: Primary Director At Uplift Meridian Preparatory (Fort Worth, Texas)
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Gateway to the Great Outdoors
What is Gateway to the Great Outdoors?
Students in low-income urban schools lack access to green spaces due to housing, safety, transportation, and more. Students without these resources are not afforded the opportunity to see practical applications of science curriculum. In addition, a lack of exposure to safe outdoor environments prevents students from developing practical skills and knowledge, while their privileged counterparts are free to explore and learn about the world around them. Gateway is unique in that it not only seeks to expose students to the outdoors and offers of nature, but it does so through integrated science curriculum. Thus, participants in the program are able to not only reap benefits in the classroom, but in their personal lives as well. According to A Community Partnership to Facilitate Urban Elementary Students’ Access to the Outdoors, “Research indicates that when schools use the environment as an integrating theme across the curriculum, their student test scores in the traditional subject areas such as reading, writing, mathematics, and science go up”. Additionally, there is extensive evidence to support improvements in mental health and wellbeing as a result of nature experiences. For example, in a survey of over 400 children who participated in a “wilderness challenge programme”, “the majority reported an increased sense of personal autonomy, improved self-concept, a greater capacity for taking action and being decisive, and an improvement in their interpersonal skills after participating in wilderness challenge programmes.” (Page 126 of Children and Their Environments: Learning, Using, and Designing Spaces). Gateway serves to bridge the gap between science and its applications in the environment for students in low-income urban schools. It fosters curiosity through challenging students to engage in atypical outdoor learning opportunities. The program provides students with a path to the outdoors where they are able to see practical applications to science curriculum.