Forests Inside Out! is a partnership of the U.S. Forest Service, World Forestry Center, and the Inner City Youth Institute. The program’s activities are structured around “Project Learning Tree,” a nationally recognized curriculum that is aimed at fostering an understanding of how forests and the environment work. Partially funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it provides outdoor education opportunities to students from underserved communities.
“Nothing compares to getting students outside,” said Rob Pierce, education director with the World Forestry Center, one of the program’s sponsors. “And, it’s important to give those who have never had the opportunity a chance to make that connection.”
Now in its second year, Forests Inside Out! engages children ages 6 to 10 from communities in the Portland and Vancouver metropolitan area to sites in the city and along the Columbia River Gorge.
During the program’s two-day format, the students explore the World Forestry Center and Hoyt Arboretum and then go on ranger-led interpretive hikes to Wahkeena and Latourell Falls. Participants come from the Boys and Girls Club of Portland and Hillsboro, Portland and Vancouver-area community and child development centers, and Portland’s Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) community schools. During the summer of 2010, approximately 350 children took part in the program.
This year, eight high school students have been hired as mentors to work with the younger participants and help them to connect with nature through sketching and journaling during their trips. These student mentors participated in the Inner City Youth Institute (ICYI) natural resource camp earlier this summer, another outdoor education program targeting underserved middle and high school students.
“Forests Inside Out! provided a great opportunity for ICYI students to spread their enthusiasm for the outdoors to a younger audience,” said Becky Bittner, conservation education specialist with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, sponsor of both Forests Inside Out! and ICYI. “Our hope is that these younger kids are inspired to participate in outdoor programs like ICYI when they get older.”