by Carolyn Meade
What are you or your loved ones doing this summer? Have you had a chance to get out on Lake Norman or Lake Wylie? To hike in the mountains? WIF grantee North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF) provides those kinds of opportunities for many Charlotte children who ordinarily would have very limited access to the natural world.
NCWF’s “GoU” (Great Outdoors University) Program provides conservation-based, experiential learning aligned with STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) concepts for 14 partner organizations, including local Boys and Girls Clubs and Freedom Schools, at approximately 18 area “destination partners” like the Raptor Center and Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge.
Last year, GoU provided 38 trips for 735 third- through eighth-graders. NCWF designed and implemented two new programs – “Lake Dwellers” in which children combine a hiking and canoe trip, and “Animal Forensics” in which participants figure out which animal “stole their lunch” based on the clues the thief left behind.
Mary Bures, GoU’s Manager, shares how special it is when volunteers see the light bulb go off for children. Comments include, “Wow, I love nature,” and “This is the best day of my life.” Teachers and leaders on the other end report to Mary that kids who have participated in GoU are excited in science class because of their real-life experiences with concepts originally discussed in the classroom.
WIF’s $71,000 grant has helped GoU reach many more children. Based on that growth, NCWF is now adding more programs to the curriculum and developing a GoU Junior Naturalist Program. GoU welcomes not just our funds but also our time and our gently used outdoor items, such as binoculars, nets, fishing poles, magnifying glasses, pocket field guides and digital or night cameras. They are always looking for volunteers to provide educational information and to act as chaperones.