On a cold winter morning in 1995, I stepped into a big van with 11 of my classmates, our environmental science high school teacher, and our luggage for the weekend. While we went on many adventures together as part of our environmental science class, this was a slightly bigger adventure for us city kids. We were on a trek from Milwaukee suburbs to northern Wisconsin for a weekend adventure at a place called Trees For Tomorrow.
As we got closer to Eagle River, the snow picked up, the temperatures dropped, and we knew we were about to embark on a winter adventure! However, I had no idea what sort of life-changing experience I was about to have. Over those next few days, I cross-country skied and snowshoed for the first time in my life. I learned about an animal called a fisher that I had never heard about (not many fishers in Milwaukee). I experienced snow depth that I never knew was possible in Wisconsin. And I was so inspired by the passionate Trees For Tomorrow educators that I finally made my decision to pursue a career in environmental education.
By far, I was not the first nor last student at Trees For Tomorrow to have a life-changing experience. For almost 80 years Trees For Tomorrow (TFT) has been educating students of all ages about sustainable management of natural resources and inspiring students in ways we might not ever truly know. Programs are now offered to community groups, schools, families, adults, and just about anyone interested in spending time in nature and learning more about sustainable management.
While we are proud of all of our programming, I am most proud of the work that has gone into Trees For Tomorrow’s school programs. We have updated customized curriculum that is based on the science of natural resource management, a campus that supports multi-day educational experiences, and a team of professional staff that includes environmental science educators. Participating schools choose from a variety of program themes (forestry, wildlife, water, energy) and length of programs that range from day or multi-day long programs. In addition to the traditional on-campus programming, we offer "programs to go." That means we can go to a school or natural area near a school and connect with students in their own community. We also provide virtual programming. No school is out of reach!
As an accredited school, Trees For Tomorrow’s curriculum is aligned with education standards, inquiry methods, and based on actual success of almost 80 years of educating people about sustainable management. A Trees For Tomorrow educational experience complements a variety of curriculum areas including science, history, physical education, literacy, math, and many social skills.
Located in the heart of Wisconsin’s northern forests, we are able to make connections to the learning students are getting in the formal classroom with the real natural world. Students become scientists at Trees For Tomorrow – making predictions, collecting data, and answering questions all while exploring lakes, wetlands, forests, and fields. Our ultimate goal is to provide the information and experience, so our students have a better understanding of what it takes to manage our natural resources.
An even more exciting part is when students are inspired to explore a career in natural resource management or environmental education! Many of Trees For Tomorrow’s school programs have an emphasis in natural resource careers. This is most prevalent in the Natural Resource Careers Exploration Week for high school students that is held each summer. Developed more than 50 years ago, this intense six-day program connects high school students directly with individuals from timber producers to mill operators, from wildlife biologists to hydrologists, from conservation wardens to engineers and more. In addition, the program introduces students to a variety of pathways to these careers. Many of Trees For Tomorrow’s board members and corporate supporters who work in the forest industry today are alumni of this career program or other Trees For Tomorrow programming from when they were in school.
As I reflect on my 21+ years at Trees For Tomorrow, I continue to be thankful every day at the impact my experience at TFT had on me. While we may truly never know how today’s students are affected by a Trees For Tomorrow experience, I am willing to bet we still change lives today!
Author Cheryl Todea is Trees For Tomorrow’s 10th Executive Director, is a program alumna, and has served in many roles with the organization including intern, educator, operations manager, and executive director. To learn more about Trees For Tomorrow, contact Cheryl at firstname.lastname@example.org, 715-479-6456 or visit TreesForTomorrow.com.