Getting kids outdoors and actively engaged in learning is a tough task in a day where TV and video games seem to come first. But that is exactly what Project Learning Tree’s Walk in the Forest aims to do—starting with teachers.
Throughout the school year, hundreds of teachers and pre-service—or student—teachers converge at forests across the state for Walk in the Forest, a PLT initiative aimed at getting environmental education implemented in classrooms across the state and nation.
“We like to say that we use PLT as a window to the world. It’s a program that’s based on environmental education but it doesn’t teach students what to think, it teaches students how to think, how to discover and how to come to their own conclusions about the environment and about other things in life,” says Jordan Herrin, Texas A&M Forest Service district forester and Sam Houston State University Walk in the Forest coordinator.
A premier environmental education program, PLT uses hands-on, interdisciplinary activities to get prekindergarten through 12th-grade students reconnected with the outdoors while teaching them lessons that correspond with state curriculum standards. Teachers and pre-service teachers become certified to teach the curriculum through Walk in the Forest workshops.
PLT co-coordinator and Texas A&M Forest Service District Forester John Boyette has been involved with Walk in the Forest for almost five years. “It’s a very worthwhile program. It teaches environmental science, it teaches forestry and it teaches teachers and students that forestry is a sustainable, earth-friendly type of business. You have to open your eyes and find out things for yourself.”
Boyette recently led a Walk in the Forest in Longview at Eastman Chemical’s Nature Center. The center hosts nine outdoor classrooms and a demonstration forest that provides examples of different forest management concepts and techniques that they allow TFS to use throughout the year.
Eastman Chemical’s continued commitment to the community, educators and students shows through their ten-year partnership with PLT, which is something they want to pass on.
“We want our future decision makers (the students) to also have this same commitment in their lives and understand the importance of taking care of the environment,” says Michelle Holyfield, training and responsible care coordinator for Eastman.
During the workshops, teachers rotate through six different stations, each focusing on a hands-on sample activity they could plan for their classrooms.
Mance Park Middle School teacher Sandra Bounds is a co-leader at the Huntsville State Park Walk in the Forest, designed to help future teachers navigate through the program guide.
Though any teacher can become involved with PLT, Bounds says it’s particularly successful to catch the student teachers while they’re still in college. Doing so allows them to accumulate a ready base of information—potential classroom lessons and a bank of natural resource professionals and forestry experts who can help them—before they get entrenched in the daily grind.
“Nowhere else can you educate close to 200 people in one day with these kinds of resources,” says Bounds, who has been involved with PLT for most of her 17-year career. “As a teacher I have really appreciated the forest industry and the commitment to education that we have from these dedicated ladies and gentlemen that spend so much time making education priority.”
Other important partnerships that make these Walks possible include Georgia Pacific, Resource Management Service, Hancock Forest Management and with colleges and universities like Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and LeTourneau.
Walk in the Forest workshops take place once each semester in different parts of the state. A national program, PLT is provided by the American Forest Foundation. In Texas, PLT is sponsored by Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Forestry Association. If you or an educator you know would be interested in joining the PLT program, check out