Back to school: Middle school moves outdoors

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Bonny Eagle Middle School teacher Brett Levin plans to activate this campus greenhouse as part of the new outdoor education course at the school.

Bonny Eagle Middle School teacher Brett Levin plans to activate this campus greenhouse as part of the new outdoor education course at the school.

Brett Levin explains the new outdoor education course at Bonny Eagle Middle School.

Brett Levin is teaching the new outdoors education course at Bonny Eagle Middle School. Levin will collaborate with the school’s Pathfinder Club and its faculty advisor Ethel Atkinson.

BUXTON — With students everywhere staring at computer screens in classrooms, Bonny Eagle Middle School is launching a new course beginning  Aug. 31, encouraging kids to have fun learning outside school walls.

The elective course is outdoor education with lessons that include horticulture, identifying species of trees, fishing, canoeing, camping, outdoor cooking and winter tracking. Brett Levin, previously a biology teacher who has worked for three years at Bonny Eagle High School, is the instructor.

“I’ll be introducing kids to the outdoors,” Levin said Monday in his classroom inside the school.

The SAD 6 district covers Buxton, Frye Island, Hollis, Limington and Standish. Levin pointed out that numerous natural resources like the Saco River, are a “stone’s throw away” in the sprawling, rural district.

“You’re teaching the value of protecting the resources,” Levin said, citing one of the course’s goals.

Benjamin Harris, middle school interim principal, sees the program as inspiring students to go to school. “(I’m) hoping to see an increase in attendance,” he said.

About 400 students in grades 6-8 will be exposed to the outdoors through the program, said Levin, who will collaborate with the school’s Pathfinder Club and its faculty adviser, Ethel Atkinson. The club has a variety of outdoor equipment, including canoes, bicycles and snowshoes.

Levin’s students could even build an outdoor classroom. “It’s brand new,” Levin said about the program, “you want the kids to be vested in it.”

A greenhouse on campus now idle will be put to use so students can grow pumpkins and start seedlings for gardens at the district’s elementary schools. The outdoors students will return to their elementary schools to teach the younger kids about gardening.

Levin will first survey the students to learn about their interests. He said the course has to be interesting to inspire them. The first outing could be flipping over downed logs to count insects, a simple and fun activity to get them outside.

Levin, a Steep Falls resident, is a natural to teach the new course for 6th, 7th and 8th graders. An outdoorsman, he previously worked for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and has been a hunting and trapping instructor,  recreation and camp director and a Boy Scout leader. He coaches varsity golf at the high school.

He’s also an Air Force veteran and previously was an educational technician in the Bonny Eagle district and at Gorham High School.

Levin grew up in Philadelphia where he studied agriculture at W.B. Saul High School. He continued his education in college earning a bachelor of science degree in fisheries and wildlife science and a master’s degree in agricultural education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Interest in the environment began early for Levin. His family had a camp in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains where he enjoyed fishing and love of the outdoors. “Big time,” he said.

After vacationing in Maine, he and his wife, Jen, bought a home and moved to Steep Falls in 2004. They have a daughter, Remy, 13, who is in eighth grade.

His new middle school course combats what he labels nature deficit disorder. “(It’s) teaching kids to be stewards of the environment,” he said.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.