Grant brings outdoor learning program to Portland's King Middle School

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PORTLAND — A new grant will allow Rippleffect to expand its specialized outdoor leadership education program to students at King Middle School.

The $3,500 grant from the new AC Hotel Portland Downtown/Waterfront “gives us the ability to begin a life-changing ripple effect for many King students who would otherwise never get to experience the challenge, the joy, and the life lessons that come with time spent in the wilderness of Maine,” Adam Shepherd, Rippleffect executive director, said.

Rippleffect is a nonprofit that focuses on providing outdoor adventure programming through hands-on and experiential learning opportunities, according to the organization’s website.

King Middle School Principal Caitlin LeClair said the programs offered by Rippleffect “directly align with our school priorities around character development and outdoor education.”

“Our school engages students in experiential learning experiences and … Rippleffect (will) enhance our work … and help shape our vision and goals for building a caring, high-functioning community. We are grateful (to be) connected to Rippleffect and look forward to our future together,” she said.

King Middle has more than 520 students, many of whom come from the most racially, ethnically, and economically diverse neighborhoods in the state, according to Shepherd.

“We (gave this) grant to Rippleffect because they give Portland youngsters an outdoor learning experience and share our gratitude for the abundance of outdoor activities in and around Casco Bay,” said Jeff Lidinsky, general manager of the new hotel.

Rippleffect operates many of its programs on 26-acre Cow Island in Casco Bay and serves more than 3,500 youth and adults annually.

Founded nearly 20 years ago, it offers programs in camping, backpacking, hiking, leadership, art, environmental education and games and team-building, according to the organization website.

Shepherd said with the recent grant, Rippleffect will be able to offer both a fall and spring session to students at King Middle. With the latest addition, the organization now offers its outdoor leadership education program to all three public middle and high schools in the city.

He said middle school students participate in five after-school sessions that focus on a “progression of outdoor wilderness skills, which culminate in a three-day expedition on Cow Island or in the White Mountains” of New Hampshire.

“While the curriculum centers on teaching the skills necessary to (have a) successful expedition, the deeper learning (works to) build (the essential) social and emotional skills that come as part of a team wilderness experience,” Shepherd said.

He said the goal of Rippleffect is to allow as many Maine youth to experience outdoor adventures as possible no matter their financial situation or level of experience. At heart, Shepherd said, Rippleffect strives to make participants effective “stewards of our planet.”

In doing that, he said the organization also tries to highlight the need for community leadership and involvement and sustainable living practices.

“Living sustainably is a recognition that the tremendous gift of an outdoor experience is one that comes with the responsibility to care for what is making that experience possible … the woods, waters, and islands of Maine and New England,” Shepherd said.

“( We teach that) it’s up to each individual to accept our role in caring for (the natural world). It’s the small acts of responsibility that culminate in broad impact … and each student learns that they, too, can take on some small part of protecting our environment.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Kayaking in the waters off Cow Island in Casco Bay is one of the key wilderness experiences that Rippleffect offers to local students.