Millinocket schools aim to teach environmental stewardship

Posted Oct. 03, 2011, at 8:43 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Environmental stewardship will be the common theme of a multidisciplinary course Superintendent Kenneth Smith and town educators hope to assemble for grades four through 12, officials said Monday.

The idea, Smith said, is to combine courses including geology, biology, chemistry, physics and earth science into one course focusing on one place where they come together — the outdoors.

“We teach all of these things, and environmentalism,” Smith said, “but they get it [environmentalism] in pieces. Here we will put them all under one roof.”

Modeling his idea after a course taught at the University of Maine, Smith pitched the idea to the Millinocket School Committee last week and got a favorable response, Chairman Arthur Hopkins said.

“We didn’t vote. We just simply gave our approval of pursuing the course,” Hopkins said Monday. “We have got to see a course outline and syllabus before we can approve the course.”

Environmentalism can be a hot topic in the Katahdin region, with environmental conservationist Roxanne Quimby proposing a national park of 70,000 acres she owns adjoining Baxter State Park.

Proponents cheer the plan as a chance to preserve nature. Park foes say it would permanently remove land from forest products industry and recreational use.

The course, Hopkins said, will appreciate both views.

“We want to make sure it is balanced, that it talks about not just saving the forest but using the forest as a working forest for recreation and industry,” Hopkins added. “There is a way to use the forest for business and ecology, managing it so you get the best of both worlds.”

By law, the school committee must approve courses before they can be taught in town schools, Hopkins said.

One of the best facets of the idea, Smith said, is how it allows teachers of all subjects to contribute to a hands-on, real-life subject that students can immediately see applications for.

Hopkins said he would hope to see the course grow into something an entire charter school could be built around that could help Stearns High School graduates acquire skills to immediately work in and add to the region’s forest products industries.

Smith will return to the board with a syllabus and course description for the committee’s review within the next two months, Hopkins said. No date has been set.

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