For many students classroom learning, and even more so, virtual learning can be a struggle. There are many different reasons for this, however, Wilderness Inquiry’s Credit Academy in partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) offers an attractive experiential learning solution. In efforts to assist and incentivize Minnesota youth to stay on track to graduate, this partnership provides a fun, alternative approach for high school students to recover academic credits – more than 50 students participated in an experiential one-week program that provided outdoor education.
Students who completed the program earned credits in science and language arts. Activities included paddling on waterways in the Twin Cities, investigations at Minnehaha Creek, and hands-on exploration utilizing public lands.
“Students often find themselves asking ‘When am I going to use this?’ when they are learning in schools. This partnership helps put learning in the real-world context as students explore topics in science, history and English,” said District Program Facilitator Aaron Gerhardt. “Students are able to connect their learning in real and tangible ways which can help ignite a passion for learning that they can carry with them throughout their lives.”
Educational inequities are impacted by several factors, including race/ethnicity, gender and social class. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown caused school closures, creating additional adversities for many students including technological barriers and challenges to their mental health that make it harder to stay engaged in virtual classrooms. Nature-based education serves as a solution to three major issues that Wilderness Inquiry is committed to addressing: closing the opportunity gap, nature deficit prevention, and racism as a public health crisis. Exposure to the outdoors improves mental and physical health, including boosted performance in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.
“This program helps every student have an opportunity to engage in learning in a new way. MPS teachers are able to connect the state academic standards to unique and engaging hands-on learning,” said Gerhardt. “This helps students to be able to grow personally, academically and to gain a deeper understanding of each class. WI provides engaging activities that help students to better understand their communities and the world around them, while MPS helps to provide the academic context for each activity.”
Studies show that credit recovery programs can help with summer learning loss, by helping students improve their academic performance and other skills such as creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving. Barriers to high-quality credit recovery programs impact students of color disproportionately. Wilderness Inquiry is currently working with other school districts as well to expand the credit program.
“We know that there have always been barriers to outdoor education for many students in the metro area and beyond,” said Wilderness Inquiry Associate Executive Director Julie Edmiston. “More than a year of virtual and hybrid learning amplified the disparities in outdoor opportunities. We’re excited to grow partnerships with local districts to provide experiential outdoor learning opportunities for more students.”