A class of Brock students recently took in the fresh air at Ball’s Falls Conservation Area — all while sharing ideas that will help local children to do the same.
Students in CHYS 2P16: Principles of Community Engagement in Education spent the last day of Winter Term classes sharing their research and enjoying the natural wonders at the Niagara conservation site.
The event marked the completion of a term project that saw students in the Department of Child and Youth Studies second-year course research two key areas in support of the education-related programs offered by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).
Working in groups, students examined how the NPCA’s nature school, day camps and field trips could provide children and youth with improved and more equitable access to green spaces and new ways to promote the development of environmental stewardship among children and youth.
Students then compiled posters outlining their research findings and suggesting possible innovations. On April 8, the class gathered at Ball’s Falls to display their posters, observe the findings of their colleagues and soak in the natural surroundings.
Assistant Professor Heather Ramey says the poster presentation allowed for the students’ work to be shared not only among their peers but also with NPCA educators and stakeholders as well as other members of the public who took in the display over the following weekend.
“Looking at both accessibility and how we build environmental stewardship made for really good research, and then students connected the research to education and to the community,” says Ramey. “These two research questions were a beautiful melding of what’s needed in the community and what’s needed from an educational perspective.”
Alicia Powell, Manager of Conservation Area Services at the NPCA, says she was excited to work with Ramey and her students on the project, which aligns with many of the priorities laid out in the NPCA’s strategic plan released earlier this year.
“One of the things the NPCA recognizes in our outdoor education program is the importance of alternative education opportunities to get students, children, youth and adults outside and active,” says Powell. “The class looked at equity and improving access to green spaces to environmental and outdoor education and at the benefits not only in terms of health and well-being, cognition and learning for children but also the benefits to our environment and to stewardship now and in the future.”
Allison Serrao, a second-year French major in the Concurrent Education program, says learning about opportunities for children to engage in natural environments opened her eyes to the importance of outdoor activity.
“From working on the project, my biggest takeaway was learning how much of an impact nature has on adolescents’ development and growth,” she says. “Being surrounded by nature has many benefits.”
The students flagged a range of issues and opportunities, from developing take-home and classroom kits to improved transportation options for accessing conservation areas.
“The work generated some phenomenal concrete and tangible suggestions for ways that organizations like the NPCA and some of our other partners can work together to improve the opportunity for folks to connect to nature,” says Powell. “Some suggestions from the posters around working with the municipalities to improve transportation to green spaces are right in line with a recently published provincial report. Access for those in concentrated settlements is limited in Niagara compared to other municipalities — so doing this research and looking at what we offer across Niagara is really important.”
Ramey says the posters were all captured in a digital format so that both students and the NPCA can keep them for future reference.
Both Ramey and Serrao commented on how pleasant their on-site experience at Ball’s Falls was, although Serrao did get startled by one of its slithering inhabitants.
“It was amazing to see the different posters that were there, and the weather was beautiful so I enjoyed the hike — it was not too long to the falls and the water was beautiful as well,” says Serrao. “The only downside was I saw a snake, which scared me, but I did end up having a laugh afterwards. Overall, I loved the experience.”