TOWNSHIP 1 RANGE 8 — Representatives from communities that make up the Katahdin region were introduced to a new concept in outdoor education Wednesday at the new River Drivers Restaurant outside Millinocket. The Butler Foundations held the event to introduce an outdoor education center for area schoolchildren.
Gilbert Butler, CEO of the foundations, described his plan to bring his foundation’s approach to outdoor education in grades four-eight. It has been successful in attracting tens of thousands of students to outdoor learning with a structured curriculum that could be duplicated in the Katahdin region.
Started in upstate New York, the programs introduce grade-school children to hiking, biking, mountain bike trail riding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on seven campuses. The students are bused from as far as an hour away as part of their regular school year’s curriculum, such as a field trip with environmental education and outdoor skills as a focus.
The costs to the school districts, including all equipment, printed materials and instruction are covered entirely by the foundations.
Started in 2008, the visits from the school districts have increased from 2,800 the first year to 15,466 in 2010. Including the current school year, the total number of students who’ve enrolled in the program adds up to 38,906.
As Butler explained in his casual address to the 70 or so invited guests, “Everything we do is endowed. All that we do is funded in perpetuity. We had over 100 schools participate from seven counties in New York. Maine is a natural, partly because Maine has so much to save, northern Maine especially.”
He also spoke about the history of the school, its missions and its structure. He plans to create a school in three weeks, he said, if there’s enough interest and the organizational structure can be built.
He then turned the proceedings over to two administrators of the foundations in New York, Lisa Garvey and Karl Anderson, who explained how the program worked in detail and answered questions from the guests.
In answers to a question about costs to the schools in the districts they serve, Garvey said, “The incremental cost is nothing.” Anderson added, “Nothing. We pay for busing. We pay for equipment. All they do is bring their lunches.” The foundations supply winter coats, boots, hats and gloves and basically everything the students need to participate in the activity, led by skilled coaches.
Questions concerning school scheduling, which is made out a year in advance, costs and many other pertinent issues were answered.
When asked by someone in the audience what it takes to make a program successful, Butler was quick to answer, “The right people, and we’ve got the right people. The right people are here. The fact that these people all came shows that the right people are here.”
If interest determines the success of a program, the residents of the Katahdin region could benefit immensely from having attended the presentation.