For the first time in its history, Manor ISD is partnering with the YMCA of Austin to include outdoor education in its curriculum for all 4th grade students during the 2017-2018 academic year. Project WILD is an educational program that introduces students to conservationism and Central Texas ecosystems through outdoor activities. In addition to this initiative being the first of its kind, these students are the first to participate in outdoor education at YMCA Camp Cypress, an 85-acre nature preserve in Buda, TX.

While outdoor education may seem abstract to some, the benefits of children learning outside range far beyond a four-walls way of thinking. In case you’re not clear about what students can learn from the natural world around us, we’ve identified five major things kids get from outdoor education.

1. It provides opportunity.

For many of the students enrolled in Project WILD, their visit to YMCA Camp Cypress will be the first time they’ve ever stepped foot onto a campsite. The four-hour, educationally-accredited program was specifically designed to provide the opportunity of exploration to underserved students who may have never experienced environmental education otherwise.

“Manor ISD is always looking for exciting and innovative ways to engage with students, and Project WILD is a great example of how we work with our partners to provide an educational experience unlike any other,” says Manor ISD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Royce Avery.

In addition to Project WILD being offered at every Manor ISD elementary school, students are transported to and from YMCA Camp Cypress at no cost to the school district, with the help of a grant from Applied Materials Foundation.

2. It promotes HEPA standards.

Research shows that children spend an average of seven hours a day in front of some type of screen. Outdoor education helps to reduce the onset of childhood obesity through interactive programming and exposure to the nutritional benefits of plants and wildlife in our local ecosystem.

After launching its commitment to educating children and their families about healthy lifestyle changes in 2011, the YMCA designed programs that directly address Healthy Eating & Physical Activity (HEPA) standards. Project WILD provides physical and emotional benefits that impact students’ lives far beyond their class credits.

“The Y is thrilled to partner with Manor ISD and Applied Materials for an amazing outdoor education program for 4th grade students,” says Andrew Wiggins, District Executive Director of YMCA of Austin. “This opportunity gives students a chance to learn, not through a screen or a book, but by literally putting their hands into the dirt and water.”

3. It provides STEM education in a real-world setting.

The Project WILD curriculum builds on the natural curiosity that children on the 4th grade level have about plants and wildlife, while supporting the development of cross-disciplinary STEM skills. Located in the important ecoregions of the Edwards Plateau and the Balcones Escarpment, Camp Cypress presents a unique biodiversity of plants and animals, where more than 130 plant species and 50 bird species can be observed during class time. This hybrid of environmentalism and education allows Project WILD to meet the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards for student testing. Upon completion of the program, students receive physical education credit.

4. It encourages conservation and environmental advocacy.

Within the last decade, the issue of climate change has become a hot topic on Capitol Hill and in classrooms across the nation. Project WILD allows students to learn about and become familiar with various nature topics, consequently fostering a sense of responsibility and accountability in protecting our environmental integrity.

Childhood is a critical period for character development, and it’s incumbent upon the community to ensure a brighter future for all youth by offering opportunities for transformative learning experiences in nature. By putting stock in outdoor education programming, Manor ISD students are gaining a foundational knowledge of Texas ecosystems along with an ignited interest in keeping Texas beautiful for generations of 4th grade learners to come.

5. It builds culture.

At the YMCA of Austin, culture is defined as who we are and how we show up in the community as an organization. Through Project WILD and other outdoor education initiatives, the YMCA helps foster the culture of living our cause and showing up with a purpose every day. Students not only make connections with friends and classmates, but also get a first-hand account of the Y’s values through the examples set by their instructors and Camp Cypress staff. Outdoor education helps to build a culture of a bridged learning gap, equal educational opportunities for every child and the foundation for students to develop and fulfill their academic potential.

“Thanks to our ongoing partnerships with the YMCA and Applied Materials, these Manor ISD students are going to learn valuable lessons about nature and science, and they’re going to have a great time as well,” says Avery.

As education continues to become more interdisciplinary, environmental learning programs like Project WILD help address issues facing our ecosystems and instill an appreciation for nature in the world around us.

by Paige Turner. Turner is the Digital Marketing Manager for the YMCA of Austin. The YMCA of Austin serves more than 65,000 active members and provides program services to an additional 60,000 people citywide.

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