Every step outside can reveal something magical in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Each week, children experience these magic moments at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center. During their time here, they’re immersed in the natural world for a four-day overnight adventure.
This past school year, fourth-graders from Harvard Avenue Performance Academy in Cleveland came to the Education Center to connect what they learn in the classroom—about science, technology, writing, and art—with hands-on outdoor experiences.
A Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education student spots a bird high in the trees!
During their trip to the Education Center , students Izaiah and Amirah found plenty to investigate—down to the rocks on the trails where they’re hiking. It turns out the two friends are amateur geologists, both with carefully curated collections at home.
On their hike, they couldn’t contain their excitement. They could hardly finish a discussion of one rock before another caught their eyes.
They pointed out each stone, picked them up, talked to each other, talked over each other, talked to kids and adults around them, and asked at least a hundred creative questions.
They also did their own bit of teaching. “So, a long time ago, water used to be bigger than the trees,” Amirah explained. “The rocks used to be buried under a whole lot of seashells, so this rock has a lot of spots. It has a lot of spots because it was buried under a lot of pressure under the water.”
“And heat!” Izaiah hastened to add. “Pressure and heat!”
Both explained that they’re paleontologists-in-training, though Amirah also anticipates a law career.
It’s obvious Amirah and Izaiah showed up at the Education Center primed to investigate, but their surroundings also clearly fueled their intellects and their imaginations. Their week-long immersion in Cuyahoga Valley National Park only made their passions burn brighter.
Students at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center get to experience nature first-hand (Photo: Melanie Nesteruk)
One of Conservancy’s goals at the Education Center is to inspire lifelong learning about the natural world. Its flagship program, All the Rivers Run, is a four-day overnight learning experience for fourth through eighth graders.
The Education Center’s director, Katie Wright, says the program is designed to dovetail with students’ classroom learning. Students who have studied water quality in their classrooms, for example, get to take samples directly from the Cuyahoga River.
“They see what’s surrounding the river that could potentially impact the nitrate level, for instance, and then they test the water for themselves, and we see things start clicking,” Wright says. “‘All the things they’ve learned in the classroom, they now see in action.”
Identifying new plants and animals in the field
Education Center programs are designed to use nature as a teaching tool. The Center’s setting in Cuyahoga Valley National Park takes advantage of a regional asset and connects students with its natural resources in the process. The Cuyahoga River watershed is a primary theme of All the Rivers Run, so students can make connections between their own actions and the impact they may have on local water sources.
Wright believes this kind of experiential learning is crucial. “There’s always a learning gap for things you haven’t experienced,” she says. “The more experiences we can give youth, the better they can understand the world they live in. They become better learners, they become better questioners, and they become more curious about the world.”
Outdoor Education for All
Having fun in Ohio’s national park (Photo: Melanie Nesteruk)
An essential part of the Conservancy’s work is that all students who want to attend our programs and experience the national park can do so.
Each year, the Education Center serves around 50 schools and nearly 2,500 students at All the Rivers Run. The Conservancy provides over $200,000 annually in scholarships and tuition assistance so students and teachers throughout northeast Ohio can attend this program.
Many students who come to All the Rivers Run have never been in a national park. Some children may have never gone on a hike. But hiking and exploring the national park is just one of the ways the Education Center makes a difference in the lives of Ohio youth.
Whether it’s nurturing a passion for geology, laying the foundation for a lifetime of outdoor adventures, or seeing the magic of an enormous night sky for the first time, outdoor education in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a powerful tool for self-discovery and lifelong inspiration.
Each year, over 9,000 children attend programs at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center. The Conservancy raises funds year-round to provide scholarships for lower-income students to attend and experience their national park. We’re tremendously grateful to the generous donors and members who support outdoor learning in the Cuyahoga Valley.