Schools on Trails Program

The Anchorage Park Foundation’s Schools on Trails program is an effort to get more Anchorage students outside of their classrooms and into nearby parks and trails. Anchorage has 224 parks and 250 miles of trails as well as numerous neighborhood schools that are located near those natural spaces. APF serves as a hub between the two that supports teachers and provides resources for them to take their students and learning outdoors.

Maps

One of those resources is a unique map for each school participating in the Schools on Trails program. Oftentimes, teachers help students prepare for creating their Schools on Trails map by completing a lesson about map making and the parts of a map. Students and teachers then head outside with APF’s Schools on Trails Coordinator and one of Huddle’s landscape designers to explore the area, observing the natural world around them and noting areas that are interesting or could serve as a great learning space.

We take the information gleaned from the on-site visit and start creating a map that calls out notable flora, nearby community gardens and playgrounds, connecting trails, and animal habitats. Many of the participating schools are elementary schools, so it’s important for the maps to be fun, colorful, and simple to use; some of the maps incorporate student artwork to make them more engaging and personalized, like Aquarian Charter School below:

Map showing trails and other landmarks near Aquarian Charter School.

The Aquarian Charter School’s on Trails map.

Sand Lake Elementary School is a Japanese immersion school and has an English and Japanese version of the map:

Map showing trails and other landmarks near Sand Lake Elementary School.

Sand Lake Elementary’s Schools on Trail map in Japanese.

The maps also incorporate either the distance or the number of steps in the route, both for informational purposes and to encourage children and their families to get outside and be active. And the benefits of children spending time in nature are clear: children who spend time outside are more attentive and retain more information, are less stressed, and are more creative. Nunaka Valley Elementary School saw another benefit: attendance consistently increased on days when students were scheduled to take their lessons outside.

Some schools, such as Nunaka Valley and Sand Lake Elementary Schools, used their momentum to apply for and build formal outdoor classrooms using grant funds.

Students outside in an outdoor classroom in a park.

Students using the outdoor classroom at Russian Jack Springs Park. Photo: Anchorage Park Foundation.

As of 2021, there are about 29 participating schools who have committed to using the natural spaces around them as outdoor classrooms for students. You can learn more about the program by watching the video below or visiting: https://anchorageparkfoundation.org/programs/schools-trails/