Kids hiking on Arizona Trail

A program that uses the Arizona Trail to give schoolchildren outdoor educational experiences received a big boost from Tucson Electric Power to expand its reach.

The Seeds of Stewardship program, started in 2012 by the Arizona Trail Association, takes a novel approach by going beyond simple field trips to work with the same students throughout the year, giving them a range of experiences that build upon each other.

“The goal is to help youth connect with nature in their own backyards. Breaking from the traditional field-trip model, they interact with these sites several times a year. That’s the only way to feel comfortable in the outdoors,” said Matthew J. Nelson, Executive Director of the Arizona Trail Association. “You can’t pack the experiences into a single field trip. The information won’t stick.”

Program leaders work with classroom teachers to integrate a variety of lessons into the outings. Seeds of Stewardship tailors each outing to expand on lessons the students receive in class.

“We’ve found you can take any lesson outdoors,” said Rebecca Patterson-Markowitz, one of the Arizona Trail Association’s Youth Outreach and Education Coordinators. “Whether it’s science or Spanish or art or English, we can use the Arizona Trail as an outdoor classroom.”

Seeds of Stewardship began with a grant from REI and has continued with support from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust — and now TEP.

“As soon as we started, there was more demand than capacity,” Nelson said. TEP was a natural partner to help the program expand, Nelson said, as the company supported the Arizona Trail Association during the construction of the trail. With a $10,000 donation from TEP and sister company UniSource Energy Services in September 2015, the program was able to increase its capacity by 20 percent.

Students from 14 schools in seven communities across Arizona participate in the program, including schools in Tucson, Sahuarita, Vail and Flagstaff.

“We look for opportunities to help expand educational opportunities at local schools,” said Wendy Erica Werden, Manager of Community Investment and Philanthropy. “Seeds of Stewardship connects local students with the outdoors and helps them understand basic science through first-hand experience.”

In just one example, the program brought a group of seventh graders from Mansfeld Middle School to Tumamoc Hill in October 2015 to learn about phenology — the study of key changes in lifecycles of plants and animals as they relate to weather and climate. By making observations along the trail, the students learned about the conditions that affect local wildlife.

“We have a unique venue — the Arizona Trail — and talented educators who work with individual teachers on how to support their curriculum. We’re trying to inspire the next generation of stewards of Arizona’s wild landscapes,” Nelson said. “If we plant the seeds now, as they grow up, they’ll know how to care for these resources in the future.”

Support for Seeds of Stewardship is consistent with the company’s philanthropic focus on education, environmental protection and economic assistance.

“This program has a real-world way of engaging students,” Werden said. “It makes an impact on their way learning that will hopefully stay with them and keep them interested in the outdoors all their lives.”

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