KEEN is recruiting for new board members! We are a 'working board' and we all engage in event planning, fundraising, and fiscal management of the organization. If you can share your expertise and passion for environmental education with a commitment of 4-8 hours per month we'd love to welcome you on board! Let us hear from you - email@example.com
KEEN's main project is to establish the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center (YCIC) at Helen McCabe Memorial Park near Ellensburg, WA.
KEEN's Habitat Team takes care of Helen McCabe Memorial State Park - the future home of the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center. Since 2004, KEEN has worked to re-establish native plant communities, manage invasive weeds, build trails, run all our nature school programs, and expand the recreational and educational use of the park.
This park space is also a hub for much of our outreach in the greater Kittitas County area. Our volunteer-led organization has spent millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours improving fishing access, trails, and picnic facilities at the park.
KEEN is currently negotiating an additional 50-year lease renewal that will allow us to manage the park in its entirety and move towards returning ecosystem functionality and ecological services on this property on the outskirts of Ellensburg WA.
Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time outdoors knows
that nature resonates deep within us, serving not only as a conduit
for understanding ourselves, but for connecting with community and understanding the broader world around us.
The Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) was established as a 501(c)3 in 2000 and has been operating in Kittitas County as a volunteer-led organization for the past 23 years. KEEN's mission is to cultivate an active understanding of the impacts of climate change on the endangered shrub-steppe and foster commitment to environmental stewardship by providing culturally relevant nature-based education.
KEEN believes in lifelong-learning and provides informal environmental educational opportunities for kids, adults, and seniors. KEEN hosts annual events including Winter Fair, Get Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe, the Yakima River Canyon Bird Fest, Urban Stream Streams & Brews, and Windfall Ciderfest. We collaborate with subject-area experts for field trip leaders, speakers, and provide learning opportunities and connections to affinity groups at all our events. Our goal is to share and build the strong sense of place that KEEN recognizes in Kittitas County, particularly the endangered shrub-steppe habitat.
KEEN’s Nature School programs include Pond to Pines Summer Camp that runs for 7 weeks each summer and 4th grade camp for all schools in Ellensburg. We also operate an afterschool program called Earth Explorers and a free environmental education program in Ellensburg City Parks called the Windy City Park Rangers.
KEEN is the go-to expert in nature-based outdoor programming in Kittitas County. For the last 22 years, KEEN has touched the lives of thousands of lifelong learners with outdoor education programming and special events. During the past eight years, our Nature School and direct environmental education have been growing with both tuition-based and grant-supported programming. Our Nature School programs primarily serve K-10th grade children in the Ellensburg, Kittitas, Damman and Thorp school districts, though our summer camp programs draw participation from across the state.
KEEN continues to work to address the barriers to participation in the tuition-supported Earth Explorers and Pond to Pines summer camp. Many children from underserved populations are responsible for the care of siblings while parents work, so KEEN aims to create programming that entire sibling groups can attend for free or low cost. While we seek donations to support our work, our largest expense is salaries. Luckily KEEN’s overhead is very low. This allows us to keep our costs low, but relying upon grant funding to sustain free programs is not realistic.
It is important to note that access to high-quality nature-based afterschool and summer programs is not always equitable. There can be significant disparities based on income and education, transportation, cultural and developmental appropriateness of programming, and neighborhood safety, among other factors. Given local statistics from our partners at FISH and APOYO food banks, KEEN estimates that 50-65% of our school-aged children cannot afford to attend high quality afterschool or summer programs.
Nature-based, outdoor, environmental education is KEEN’s specialty. It is an ideal way to integrate academic disciplines, stimulate the academic and social growth of young people, and promote conservation of the natural environment. We know that nature-based outdoor environmental education improves academic achievement, encourages environmental stewardship, deepens personal development and wellbeing, and strengthens our communities.
KEEN centers our outdoor programming at the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center @ Helen McCabe Memorial State Park just five miles south of Ellensburg. We also partner with the City of Ellensburg to use city parks for summer and afterschool programming, and with the Ellensburg School District, who operates a small nature area near Mt Stuart School. Using outdoor settings like these infuses a sense of richness and relevance into learners’ lives. In addition to gaining valuable skills and environmental knowledge, learners often experience advances in other areas of their lives.
Imagination and enthusiasm are heightened
Nature-based outdoor EE is hands-on, interactive learning that sparks the imagination and unlocks creativity. Learners are more enthusiastic and engaged, which raises achievement in core academic areas.
Learning transcends the classroom
Not only does nature-based outdoor EE offer opportunities for experiential learning outside of the classroom, it enables learners to make connections and apply their learning in the real world. Nature-based outdoor EE helps learners see the interconnectedness of social, ecological, economic, cultural, and political issues.
Critical and creative thinking skills are enhanced
Nature-based outdoor EE encourages learners to research, investigate how and why things happen, and make their own decisions about complex environmental issues. By developing and enhancing critical and creative thinking skills, nature-based outdoor EE helps foster a new generation of informed consumers, workers, as well as policy and decision makers.
Tolerance and understanding are supported
Nature-based outdoor EE encourages learners to investigate varying sides of issues to understand the full picture. It promotes tolerance of different points of view and different cultures.
State and national learning standards are met for multiple subjects
By incorporating nature-based outdoor EE practices into the curriculum, teachers can integrate science, math, language arts, history, and more into one rich lesson or activity, and still satisfy numerous state and national academic standards in all subject areas. Taking a class outside or bringing nature indoors provides an excellent backdrop or context for interdisciplinary learning.
Biophobia and nature deficit disorder decline
By exposing learners to nature and allowing them to learn and play outside, nature-based outdoor EE fosters sensitivity, appreciation, and respect for the environment. It reverses “nature deficit disorder” … and it is FUN!
Healthy lifestyles are encouraged
Nature-based outdoor EE gets learners outside and active, and helps address some of the health issues we are seeing in children today, such as obesity, attention deficit disorders, and depression. Good nutrition is emphasized through nature-based outdoor EE, and stress is reduced due to increased time spent in nature.
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Communities are strengthened
Nature-based outdoor EE promotes a sense of place and connection through community involvement. When learners decide to learn more or take action to improve their environment, they reach out to community experts, donors, volunteers, and local facilities to help bring the community together to understand and address environmental issues impacting their neighborhood.
Responsible action is taken to better the environment
Nature-based outdoor EE helps learners understand how their decisions and actions affect the environment, builds knowledge and skills necessary to address complex environmental issues, as well as ways we can take action to keep our environment healthy and sustainable for the future. KEEN incorporates service-learning opportunities into our programs including neighborhood cleanups, park improvements, and helping with community gardens.
Learners and teachers are empowered
Nature-based outdoor EE promotes active learning, citizenship, and student leadership. It empowers youth to share their voice and make a difference at their school and in their communities. Nature-based outdoor EE also helps teachers build their own environmental knowledge and teaching skills.
Regular participation in nature-based outdoor EE opportunities can also lead to improved social and emotional competencies, including prosocial behavior, intrinsic motivation, better concentration efforts, and higher sense of self-worth. So called social-emotional learning is an integral part of human development that advances educational equity and excellence.
KEEN is committed to authentic learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. This allows staff to address various forms of inequity and empower young people to contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities. Poverty reduction, economic mobility, and reduced reliance on public assistance have also been found to be benefits of social and emotional learning. These “soft skills” are essential for workforce development and lead to more youth being hired and successful in their jobs. Development of personal and social skills in afterschool and summer camp settings that implement SAFE (sequences, active, focused, and explicit) features also lead to higher academic achievement, positive feelings, and attitudes toward school.
Participating in summer and afterschool outdoor programs leads to increased adult supervision which makes youth feel safer and reduces instances of being left unsupervised with peers out of school. It also means that younger children are supervised by older siblings less often.
School-age children and youth spend 80% of their waking hours outside of school, and we estimate that between 30-40% of our community’s children are home alone after the school day ends and during the 9 weeks of summer every year. Afterschool and summer programs can support social, emotional, cognitive, and academic development, reduce risky behaviors, promote physical health, and provide a safe and supportive environment for children and youth.
Afterschool and summer programs also provide a significant return-on-investment, with every $1 invested saving at least $3 through increasing youth’s earning potential, improving their performance at school, and reducing crime and juvenile delinquency.
Other benefits of afterschool and summer programs include:
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Attending high-quality afterschool and summer programs and regular participation can lead to improved social and emotional competencies, including prosocial behavior, intrinsic motivation, better concentration efforts, and higher sense of self-worth. SEL is an integral part of education and human development that advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities. Poverty reduction, economic mobility, and reduced reliance on public assistance have also been found to be benefits of social and emotional learning. These “soft skills” are essential for work force development and lead to more youth being hired and successful in their jobs. Development of personal and social skills in afterschool settings that implement SAFE (sequences, active, focused, and explicit) features also lead to higher academic achievement, positive feelings, and attitudes toward school.
Academic Support. Attending afterschool and summer programs can improve learners’ academic performance. A national evaluation found that more than 40 percent of learners improved their reading and math grades, and that those who attended more regularly were more likely to make gains.
School Participation. Attending afterschool and summer programs leads to improvement in class participation, better adjustment as young people move to the next phase of schooling, increased school day attendance and participation, and reduced school dropout rates.
Safety. Participating in afterschool and summer programs leads to increased adult supervision which makes youth feel safer and reduces instances of being left unsupervised with peers out of school. It also means that younger children are supervised by older siblings less often. Adult supervision that is based on developmental relationships promotes positive youth development as it not only promotes personal safety and decreases risky behaviors such as smoking or drug abuse, but also creates an environment where young people learn better and are able to thrive.
Supporting Working Families. Working families and businesses also benefit from afterschool and summer programs that ensure that youth have a safe place to go while parents or guardians are at work. Parents and guardians who do not have access to childcare miss an average of eight days of work per year, and this decreased worker productivity costs businesses up to $300 billion annually (nationally).
Nutrition and Physical Activity. Afterschool and summer programs can also improve young people’s dietary snack consumption.