Forest education program branching out, reaching youth

University Park, Pa. -- Two years ago, Penn State's School of Forest Resources and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry teamed up to offer a free program to teach youth about forests and the concept of forest stewardship. Since then, more than 5,000 youths have participated.

The results have been encouraging, according to Sanford Smith, Penn State Cooperative Extension natural resources and youth-education specialist, who created the Junior Forest Steward Program.

"Pennsylvania youth often know very little about the forests and natural areas that cover the state," he said. "This educational initiative gets kids excited about and interested in Penn's Woods," he said. "Some of the youth and groups involved have really taken it seriously and learned a great deal about forests and forestry."

The curriculum is designed for implementation by teachers, youth-group leaders and other adults working with youth, and organizers are always seeking new cooperating adults to help facilitate the program, Smith noted. "The adults we need do not have to be naturalists or forestry experts to carry out the Junior Forest Steward Program," he said.

"An interest and willingness to learn right along with youth is the only thing we require. The program works in both formal and nonformal educational settings."

The program format is flexible, Smith pointed out. Young participants read an interactive Junior Forest Steward publication (individually or as a group), discuss the questions, and then participate in a forest-stewardship activity led by the adult educator or helper. A guide for adults accompanies the publication and provides ideas for activities that youth can undertake.

"After participants complete the three steps, their adult helpers send a short 'tally-sheet' to Cooperative Extension, and the youth receive an embroidered Junior Forest Steward patch as an award and reminder of what they learned," Smith said.

The program is intended to raise awareness of forest stewardship and the importance of being a steward of the natural world. "After all, today's youth will be responsible for the forests that give Pennsylvania its name, and they will pass them on to future generations," Smith said.

To request copies of the Junior Forest Steward publication, contact Penn State Forest Resources Extension at 814-863-0401 or at 800-235-9473. More information is available by visiting the program's website or by contacting Sanford Smith at 814-865-4261 or sss5@psu.edu.

 

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Last Updated March 21, 2011