• 'Rivers and Revolution' making the outdoors a bigger part of the school day

    By: Bob Dumas

    Updated:

    Getting high school students outside -- off their phones and not playing Fortnite -- can be challenging.

    Now one local high school is making being outdoors a much bigger part of the actual school day.

    Rivers and Revolution is a one-semester interdisciplinary program at Concord-Carlisle High School in Concord, Massachusetts, which uses the local community as its classroom.

    "The idea is that we learn out in the field 50% of the time, and we are in the class 50%  of the time", explained Tracie Dunn, a teacher who helped develop the program. "Our goal is to be onsite in the community, or on trails, or in cultural centers for 50% of the time, to connect all of our learning to the real world."

    For example, a science teacher recently presented a lesson on the environment first thing in the morning. Then the students split up into groups and spread out across the area to various sites. The goal is to help the students make connections between what they learn in class and what they experience in the real world.

    Dunn said the grades of many student often improve because they enjoy this approach so much.

    Senior Cameron Emde-Gerdine said many of his classmates respond positively to this style of learning.

    "There are quite a few students who struggle with normal school, the normal education system that we have," Emde-Gerdine said. "They come to the Rivers program and they just love it and they thrive."

    The program focuses on five subject areas: history, English, art, science, and math.

    Mike Parato, a math teacher, said kids learn and don't even realize it.

    "So much calculation is happening that we're not even thinking about it," Parato said. "It's just happening as we go."

    Rivers and Revolution draws kids from all academic levels and also includes students with emotional and learning issues.

    Dunn said the program doesn't cost much to run and could even save a district money by reducing the need for other support services.

    "I've actually done some of this work in Lowell as well and they also have river systems that run through their town. They have cultural heritage. They have history that's worth learning. I don't think only affluent towns have parts of their community to be proud of," added Dunn.

    Whether it's learning how to handle tools, or just cuddling some of the animals, it's clear being in nature has the power to transform students.

    "It has changed my life completely, this one semester. Everything I look at, literally, is different. I've also learned more than in my entire life by being hands-on," said senior Honor Valentine.

    In addition to using the outdoors as a classroom, Rivers and Revolution also takes students to cultural institutions in Concord and Boston as part of its curriculum.

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