Mountain Vista 4th graders have been doing some classwork in the outdoors along the Arizona National Scenic Trail. Not only have they been learning about nature and the environment but the students have been working, picking up garbage and widening the trail. This is part of the Arizona Trail Association’s project “Seeds of Stewardship” program.
The Stewardship Program engages youth within the Arizona Trail Association’s gateway communities by using experience, education and service learning to “plant the seeds” of stewardship for future generations. Oracle, Mammoth and San Manuel are gateway communities of the Arizona Trail. The mission of the program “is to provide educational and meaningful outdoor experiences that empower youth to become the next generation of stewards of Arizona’s wild landscapes”. Over 1200 kids have participated so far and the program is growing. Elementary, middle school and high school students can participate in the program.
The students get to experience hiking sections of the Arizona Trail near their communities. This helps connect youth, families and communities with the natural resources surrounding their community. Educational components are presented along the trail. On-the-trail lessons include learning about ecology, botany, biology, geology and other earth sciences. The professional outdoor educators work with teachers and administrators at the schools to support their curriculum and reinforce what the students are already learning.
After completing the first two tiers of the program, the students then get an opportunity to be a part in maintaining, developing and protecting the Arizona Trail through involvement in service projects. The students get to work alongside professionals from the Tonto National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and the Arizona Trail Association. They learn trail safety while doing basic maintenance and construction along the trail. This makes them feel that they are owners of the Arizona Trail. It is an effective way of teaching kids responsibility, encouraging self-esteem and creating civic-minded individuals.
Julie Formo’s and Mrs. Sanchez’s 4th grade classes have been involved with the Stewardship Program. Julie said that “their goal is to teach them about their environment and get them out in the desert.” The students in both classes spoke excitedly about what they have learned and experienced along the trail.
The students said they have learned about the Native Americans that once lived in the area. They visited an area near Oracle where they found Hohokam ruins. They found a metate in the rocks and were taught what it was used for and about native foods such as saguaro fruit, prickly pear, devil’s claws and mesquite beans. Some of the many things they said they learned included: identifying animal tracks, the different types of pollinators in the area, the migration of the Monarch butterflies through the area on their way to Mexico, flora and fauna in the area, loco weed and other poisonous plants, trail safety and tool safety. They all said they want to go back to the trail soon.
The Mt. Vista students cleaned up and widened one mile of the trail. Local beekeeper Fred Terry taught them about bees and other pollinators. They learned how to identify Anasazi and Hohokam pottery from the Old Pueblo Archaeology Club. Some students made a pie using native plants, prickly pear, hackberry, manzanita with mesquite bean flour for the crust. Others made prickly pear jelly and gummi bears. These projects won 2nd and 3rd Place in a science project competition.
You could tell from talking with the kids that they have learned a lot about the desert environment and had fun while learning. This innovative program was somewhat summed up by two students who answered the question about what they have learned.
“We can help keep the trail going by becoming a steward and being kind to the environment,” one student said. “The desert is our home and we should take care of it,” added the second one.
If you would like to learn more about the Seeds of Stewardship program or the Arizona Trail, visit arizonatrail.org.