“Youth on the Allagash” Winter 2022 Update

Starting in 2016, Youth on the Allagash has connected middle school students in the St. John Valley with multi-faceted Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM), project-based, learning units for a new generation of environmental stewards informed about the causes, impacts, and responses to climate change. The initiative also promotes self-esteem, healthy lifestyles, and leadership skills, while removing the barriers of access to and promoting knowledge of life-long outdoor recreation experiences.

With support from Allagash Brewing Company, Drummond Woodsum, L.L. Bean, Wicked Joe Organic Coffees, and the Maine Community Foundation, Quimby Family Foundation, Perloff Foundation, and individual donors, the AWWF was able to resume Youth on the Allagash in 2021.

In collaboration with school administrators, teachers, and town recreation departments Youth on the Allagash 2021 consisted of:

  • A 2021 pilot Canoeing and Water Safety Day Camp experience for 25 youth in grades 5-7 allowing students to explore the nearby waters and learn the basics of “leave no trace,” and the physics of water and paddling,
  • Three multi-day Allagash Wilderness Trips for 26 youth in grades 7-9 along with two teachers and one school board member introduced life-long outdoor recreation, wellness, and leadership skills as well as STEAM, and natural, historic, and cultural knowledge about the Allagash River and the St. John Valley, and
  • A 2021 pilot Classroom to River program, with the assistance of the Great Schools Partnership, is building an outdoor, project and placed based curriculum with STEAM and natural and cultural learning units in the Allagash and the St. John Valley.

Youth on the Allagash is supported directly by eight teachers, the Valley United Superintendent, Principals of the three middle schools and five of the 19 AWWF board members, two of which are teachers in the Valley.

Since 2016, over 150 students have participated in the day camp and wilderness trips, and now middle school classrooms are participating in the Classroom to River project. Long term AWWF’s goal is to offer the experience to students residing in all communities in the vicinity of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and to Maine’s four Wabanaki Nations’ youth. (Discussions are currently underway for the Wabanaki Ancestral Lands Trail Crew to paddle from the Allagash to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in 2022.)

Quotes from 2021 participants provide a snapshot of why this initiative is so special for the students:

  • “The trip made me feel adventurous, because we had to do everything ourselves” (Fort Kent student, age 12)
  • “I’m proud of myself for making it through. Also, happy I had fun with everyone.” (Madawaska student, age 13)
  • The trip made me feel good and accomplished because I canoed a LOT! (Madawaska student, age 13)

Youth services continue to be extremely limited in the St. John Valley, especially in the summer months and the poverty and youth wellness rates are notably low in Aroostook County. We are also told these numbers are worse post-COVID.

Our major thrust in 2021 was to establish the Classroom to River project. In its first year the Classroom to River project has supported 6 Valley middle school teachers develop project based, outdoor learning units. This is reported to be a new teaching concept in the Valley. The mid-year review is underway but so far, we can report on two successfully completed projects – one that involved trail map making with written descriptions of the route, and a school yard plant identification project that includes written descriptions of the plants.

The Youth on the Allagash initiative is beginning to have high value impact, and post-COVID, the three programs are needed in the Valley more than ever.  

Photo credit: Leslie Marquis