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A program that uses the Arizona Trail to give schoolchildren outdoor educational experiences has received a big boost from UniSource Energy Services to expand its reach.

The Seeds of Stewardship program, started in 2012 by the Arizona Trail Association, takes a novel approach by going beyond simple field trips to work with the same students throughout the year, giving them a range of experiences that build upon each other.

“The goal is to help youth connect with nature in their own backyards. Breaking from the traditional field-trip model, they interact with these sites several times a year. That’s the only way to feel comfortable in the outdoors,” said Matthew J. Nelson, Executive Director of the Arizona Trail Association. “You can’t pack the experiences into a single field trip. The information won’t stick.”

Program leaders work with classroom teachers to integrate a variety of lessons into the outings. Seeds of Stewardship tailors each outing to expand on lessons the students receive in class.

“We’ve found you can take any lesson outdoors,” said Rebecca Patterson-Markowitz, one of the Arizona Trail Association’s Youth Outreach and Education Coordinators. “Whether it’s science or Spanish or art or English, we can use the Arizona Trail as an outdoor classroom.”

Seeds of Stewardship began with a grant from REI and has continued with support from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust — and now UES and its sister company, Tucson Electric Power.

“As soon as we started, there was more demand than capacity,” Nelson said. UES and TEP were natural partners to help the program expand, Nelson said, as the companies supported the Arizona Trail Association during the construction of the trail. With a $10,000 donation from UES and TEP in September 2015, the program was able to increase its capacity by 20 percent.

Students from 14 schools in seven communities across Arizona participate in the program, including schools in Flagstaff, Tucson, Sahuarita and Vail.

“We look for opportunities to help expand educational opportunities at local schools,” said Wendy Erica Werden, UES’ Manager of Community Investment and Philanthropy. “Seeds of Stewardship connects local students with the outdoors and helps them understand basic science through first-hand experience.”

Support for Seeds of Stewardship is consistent with UES’ philanthropic focus on education, environmental protection and economic assistance.

“This program has a real-world way of engaging students,” Werden said. “It makes an impact on their way learning that will hopefully stay with them and keep them interested in the outdoors all their lives.”

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