A new partnership between the Huron-Clinton Metroparks and local schools aims to expose underserved students to local outdoor environments while offering career development opportunities.
Riverside Academy West middle-school teacher Yvonne Ghedotte told Planet Detroit the program directly impacts students in her school in an economically disadvantaged area of Dearborn, where 100% of students are eligible for the federal free and reduced lunch programs.
Ghedotte joined Metroparks to form an after-school STEAM Club focused on science, technology, engineering, art, and math enrichment activities.
“Often, students do not get a good glimpse of the wide range of careers that science, technology, engineering, art, and math have to offer,” Ghedotte told Planet Detroit. “There are so many jobs available in these fields, and we wanted to expose students to various career paths that could be followed.”
So far, the club has explored fall colors at the Metroparks, where students went out and collected leaves and explored chromatography. They also completed a unit on owls, during which Metroparks staff brought a mounted specimen into the classroom. The students created an owl collage and dissected owl pellets as part of the unit.
“This exposure allows the student to speak firsthand to scientists in the field to get an idea of some available careers,” Ghedotte said. She said the program is making a real impact. One student told her, “Now, I think I want to be a scientist that studies ecosystems!”
“So often we see students living in their phones and ignoring the natural world around them,” said Jennifer Jaworksi, Metroparks’ chief of interpretive services. “And this program helps all students have access to the opportunity to step away from a screen and engage with nature.”
The Metroparks’ Board of Commissioners prioritized and set aside funds for educational programs and career development as part of its 2022 budget to support the program.
Thomas Long, a science instructional coach for the charter school system Global Educational Excellence, which includes Riverside Academy West, told Planet Detroit that he has wanted to do a program to “draw more students in and encourage them to both learn about nature and care for it, maybe even to pursue a career in the field.”
In addition to science education, the students gain marketing skills. They use cameras, video-editing software, and drones to develop digital content for Metroparks’ social media platforms and website blogs.
The exercise mimics a consultant-client relationship for students to get real-life experience working in environmental multimedia, starting with a meeting and presentation with Metroparks marketing staff.
“It’s a major benefit for us because teenagers are statistically hardest to reach, so we can tap into what’s most interesting to them and their peers for some fresh content,” said Danielle Mauter, Metroparks chief of marketing and communications.
“It allows our students to interact with the environment and the community and explore possible careers in science or media and learn about nature,” Long said. “Metroparks benefits by gaining a connection to how teenagers view and respond to the parks and how they might market to them.”
A recent expedition to Lake Erie Metropark allowed students to learn about the park’s history, unique wildlife, and programs. The students then met with their “client” – Metroparks staff – to discuss how to best market the park to teens. They then produced photos with captions for publication.
“With this program, we are balancing stewardship, conservation, media skills, marketing, new technologies, career exposure, the importance of nature, and learning science,” Long said. “I am excited for the students on what they can develop and what time in nature develops in them.”
The Metroparks has also partnered with Weston Charter Academy in Detroit to host an after-school Let’s Go Outside Club for students grades 4-8. The program takes place entirely outdoors and aims to help students gain a connection to their local natural environment, according to a press release.
Several free and supplemental programs are on offer to schools in several counties in Michigan. Teachers can learn more and apply here.