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Submitted Photo From left are Jim Fregonara, Hannah Fincham, Kate Reed, Valerie Hart Warner and her daughter Parker Warner, Vicki Fenwick-Judy, Debbie Schmidlen and John Aliveto.

Many outdoor educational and recreational organizations in Randolph County are working together to welcome teachers and students to the great outdoors this spring.

In a full-day program, fifth graders from all schools in the county have the opportunity to learn about local streams and ecosystems, plants and animals, practical outdoor skills, water sports, and tools for mental and physical health.

“There is growing evidence of the benefits of taking students outside to learn.” said Vicki Fenwick-Judy, executive director of Experience Learning and partner in the Outdoor Education Initiative. “It may also contribute to academic achievement, student and teacher engagement, and social-emotional health.

“We are so fortunate to have so many stunning outdoor spaces in Randolph County, and we don’t have to go far to reap the benefits of outdoor learning.”

Randolph County students and educators are looking forward to the resumption of outdoor educational programs this spring after so many activities were limited. Randolph County Schools Superintendent Debbie Schmidlen said: “This program is so necessary. Our teachers and students have had a stressful few years, and I look forward to our fifth graders being able to interact with kids from other schools before transitioning to middle school. Hands-on outdoor experiences are so memorable and valuable for everyone involved.”

This year’s program includes a variety of activities run by outdoor partners. West Virginia University Extension Office will teach water sports and safety, Wonder & Grow: Mindful Nature Experience will guide natural movement exercises, nature journals and mental health tools, Experience Learning will engage students in aquatic ecology and departmental natural resources will provide knowledge about the share local wildlife. The Kump Education Center, D&E Outdoor Recreation Management and community partners will provide additional volunteer support.

“The love of community and responsibility starts with just getting outside and encouraging our children to feel comfortable in the green spaces near their homes or in their own schoolyards.” said Valerie Hart Warner, co-founder of Wonder & Grow. “Besides, we all know that being in nature is just better for us! We want students and educators to make that connection for themselves and start taking responsibility for their own health and well-being. Programs like this spark wonder, play, and wellness without expensive equipment or travel—there are amazing things to see right in our backyards.”

This year’s Spring Outdoor Educational Experiences will be held on May 24th, 25th and 26th at 4-H Camp Pioneer and are open to all fifth grade students from Randolph County schools. Funding for the Randolph County Outdoor Education program comes from private donations, the Snowshoe Foundation and the Randolph County Board of Education, with contributions in kind from partners.

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