Nature is everywhere… and yet students have little opportunity to get outside and experience it! Kids are becoming increasingly disconnected from the outdoors and lack a true understanding and appreciation for the bountiful forests, water, and wildlife of the Inland Northwest. Most schools lack field trip budgets for secondary school science classes and students spend most of their time inside the “four gray walls” of the traditional classroom. This can foster apathy, particularly for those who are hands-on learners; and promote physical inactivity, eventually resulting in diseases like childhood obesity and Type II Diabetes.

To promote outdoor and environmental education, The Lands Council created Project SUSTAIN. Project SUSTAIN is an outdoor, place-based, STEM-focused (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) environmental education program designed to restore the connection between youth and nature by enabling students to get outside, practice field science, be physically-active, and become responsible environmental stewards. Project SUSTAIN provides field trips and supporting in-class lessons (aligned with state standards and school curricula) to high school and middle school students in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene region. Our field trips encourage active outdoor recreation activities including hiking, kayaking, and snowshoeing; and community-building service learning projects such as tree plantings and stream/lake clean-ups.

Through Project SUSTAIN’s “3E” educational model – and in coordination with our many community partners – we expose students to the outdoors, empower them with relevant knowledge and skills; and encourage them to apply these experiences throughout their lives to become responsible environmental stewards. We blur the lines between learning and fun, promote leadership and kinship in the outdoors, role model environmental ethics, and familiarize students with career/professional opportunities in the natural resources and environmental sciences.

Project SUSTAIN encourages students to embrace a more outdoors-based, physically-active lifestyle. Many of our students are at risk of dropping out of school; deal with issues such as learning disabilities, anger management, substance abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and teenage pregnancy; and have little to no experience with the outdoors and lack a connection to it. Through the outdoor exploration opportunities provided by Project SUSTAIN, we mentor these students and help role model positive, healthy life skills and behaviors. Offering kids a safe, stimulating environment in which to learn, grow, be active, be inspired, and be exposed to new paths in life helps them overcome personal challenges; builds confidence and self-worth; and motivates them to become responsible, productive members of society. It is our intention that Project SUSTAIN will – on a local level – help build a stronger, healthier community.