Creating new offerings for children and youth

Children in Puerto Rico face extreme disadvantages due to poverty and the statistics have been further exacerbated after the hurricanes in 2017, the earthquakes in 2020 and now more recently the global pandemic.

Kids are predominantly urban-dwellers and interaction with nature and outdoor activities is no longer part of the daily routines for most families. Also, there is a lack of formal and informal environmental education, programming, and activities available to Puerto Rican children and youths, particularly in our schools and youth-serving organizations. To address these inequities, in 2018, through an award by the National Recreation Foundation, Para la Naturaleza (PLN) created an After-School Immersion in Nature Workshop pilot program. The goal of this program was to provide participants with transformational educational experiences related to the natural environment by fostering a connection to the outdoors. Para la Naturaleza has had a long-standing history working with young people through its reputable Summer Immersion in Nature Camp that has served over 2100 young people since 1993.

Through the after-school program, PLN worked with six Montessori schools from the Instituto Nueva Escuela (INE) by creating four school gardens/orchards and two butterfly farms. As a result of the project’s significant impact on the thousands of students, teachers, and families from the six schools, INE has decided to establish a permanent project that will expand its reach to 14 additional Montessori schools under their program.

Thanks to renewed funding from the National Recreation Foundation, INE and PLN are expanding its reach from the initial six schools to twenty model schools for the 2021-2022 academic year. The curriculum will be enhanced to include the following projects: botanical gardens, school gardens/orchards, butterfly gardens, tree nurseries, home and/or community gardens and domes for outdoor classes.

Our desired outcome is for our students to develop a lifelong connection to the outdoors and transform our youth participants into knowledgeable, passionate, ambassadors for nature and conservation. The National Recreation Foundation is a meaningful partnership because they are dedicated to enhancing the role of recreation as a positive force in improving the quality of life of youth. They have an accomplished history of investing in recreation programs serving those who are economically, physically or mentally disadvantaged.