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LET'S GO!: Teaching Healthy Habits Through Outdoor Adventures

Imagine taking a challenging three-hour hike, snowshoeing through the forest, or biking ten miles through woods and wetlands on a rail trail; most people would love to spend a weekend doing just one of these activities. The students at the grades 7 & 8 Worcester East Middle School in Worcester, Massachusetts have been going on these trips and more all throughout the school year!

Learning by Encouraging Today’s Students to Go Outdoors (LET’S GO!) is the product of a partnership between the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary and Worcester Public Schools. Howard Fain, a science teacher at Worcester East Middle School, came up with the idea for Let’s GO! in 2010.  “We knew the students wanted things to do; if we could provide easy and frequent access to the outdoors, then being active outdoors could infiltrate the culture at the school.  It could become a habit,” Fain says.  “Now, I’m stopped in the hallways: ‘When can I go again?’”

The program is motivated by three key goals: increasing physical activity, raising environmental awareness, and enriching science education.

In its first year the LET’S GO! organizers set goals of getting 20 percent of Worcester East Middle School’s 590 students to go on at least one voluntary outdoor activity trip and 5 percent of the students to participate in four or more trips. By the end of year one, LET’S GO! had organized 106 outdoor trips and brought 219 students—37 percent of the student body—along on at least one trip. Over 70 students—13 percent of the student body—went on four or more trips. 

Earlier this fall, the entire cheerleading squad from Worcester East Middle School went on a Let's Go! hiking trip to Purgatory Chasm, a geologic wonder just outside the city of Worcester.

LET’S GO! activities range from an easy walk along gentle terrain to challenging mountain climbs. The average trip lasts around three hours, which far exceeds the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.  The trips take place outside of school hours on weekends, vacations, and after school. LET’S GO! organizers provide all of the necessary equipment and transportation for these students. Healthy food like unsweetened no-salt trail mix, fresh fruit, and water are always served and eagerly anticipated.  In the 2010-2011 school year, students logged over 3,130 total miles of hiking, biking, and canoeing!

The mostly low-income, minority students at this urban school are unfamiliar with the recreation opportunities that exist right in their own backyards, so LET’S GO! organizers make sure that at least one-third of all trips are to open spaces within Worcester city limits. 

Aside from exercising and eating right, students are also learning about the environment and the ecosystems of their local communities. Many of the students are great at spotting animals tracks in the snow or turning over rocks to find salamanders and other critters; they’ve also become experts at identifying different types of lichen on rocks and trees.  To be sure,  some of the best science lessons are the ones that happen outside the classroom.

Now in it’s third year, the LET’S GO! program is gaining momentum.  Just three months into the school year, more than 20 percent of the students at Worcester East Middle School have participated in at least one trip and have hiked, paddled and biked 816 total student miles.