Student project inspires learning at Harpswell Community School

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HARPSWELL — When Emma Levy began working on her senior project at Mt. Ararat High School two years ago, she never expected it would lead to a revision of the curriculum at Harpswell Community School.

At the beginning of the school year, Harpswell third-grade teachers launched a local field trip program that includes Levy’s Junior Ranger Activity Book, created for her senior capstone in 2016.

The booklet contains nature facts, tips for exploring the outdoors and activities that correspond with 10 nature preserves in Harpswell.

Levy, a Harpswell native and now a sophomore at Williams College, said she was inspired to create the book because she loved completing junior ranger programs at national parks as a kid.

“It took me about the whole year, the fall was really fun, I got to go to all of the preserves,” Levy said. “I spent the rest of the year developing the activities. It’s really fun to think back on what I would’ve liked to explore as a kid.”

After working at the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust’s Nature Day Camp as a junior counselor, Levy approached Julia McLeod, outreach coordinator at the organization, for help on the project.

McLeod said for the most part, Levy completed the book herself, with McLeod giving her occasional tips on what to add or take out. McLeod also put together a “test group” of kids to try out the activities, emailing pages to their parents and relaying the feedback to Levy.

“It sort of gave her an idea of what was resonating with kids, and gave information about what age range this is best for,” McLeod said.

When picking which of the land trust’s nature preserves to feature, Levy said she tried to err towards preserves that were “more natural” and hard to discover, rather than more widely used spaces.

“I ended up doing activity packets for about 10 preserves,” she said. “For every one there’s a page for before you go, something you want to see (while there), and a concluding page for after you go.”

Originally, the junior ranger book wasn’t intended for use in Harpswell schools, but rather as a resource local families could get from the land trust and use as a guide to explore Harpswell.

It is still on sale at the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust for a suggested donation of $3. 

Megan Phillips, one of the third-grade teachers at Harpswell Community School, said she and her teaching partner, Elizabeth Gilley, first heard of Levy’s book from former Principal Kerry Bailey.

Phillips said she and Gilley were excited about the program, and the opportunity to do nine field trips with it, as opposed to the usual two or three per year.

McLeod also made adjustments to the program, aligning it with Next Generation science standards.

For instance, McLeod said she tied together the science standard that requires teaching habitat comparison and Levy’s lesson on how to navigate a hiking trail on the Skofield Shores Preserve trip.

Every time the trail led students to a new habitat, such as from a forest to the shoreline or an open field, the students would discuss how the habitats were different and how different plants and animals require different habitats.

“What I did is, I went through (Levy’s) book and had the Next Generation standards on one side, and her book on the other side and looked to see where they matched,” McLeod said.

Phillips and Gilley also gave a presentation to the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors, and Phillips said she thinks there may be potential to expand the program to other grades in the future.

She added it has been rewarding to see enthusiasm from students about the hands-on learning.

“(They’re) beyond excited,” Phillips said. “We’ve got kids who normally don’t participate truly stepping up (and) kids who would never read or speak, in front presenting.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Harpswell native Emma Levy created a book for her high school senior project in 2016 that features activities corresponding to 10 Harpswell nature preserves. Harpswell Community School now uses the book as part of its third-grade curriculum. 

Julia McLeod of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, left, with parent-volunteer Frank Wright, instructs Harpswell Community School students using a junior ranger activity book created by a former student. 

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