WATERVILLE — Trent Thompson, a junior at Messalonskee High School in Oakland, has always loved the outdoors. He wants to be a Maine game warden.

“I want to learn more on how to guide because I think it will help me a lot,” Thompson said. “I will probably end up going to college to be a game warden and work on the side.”

Thompson is among those enrolled at the Mid-Maine Technical Center’s newest program that is teaching students the importance of hands-on learning and communication while being immersed in the outdoors. The Outdoor Leadership and Natural Resource Management program kicked off on Aug. 29 and has seen a steady trickle of student enrollment in the days following. It is replacing the Automotive Collision Program after the instructor left the tech center and the position could not be filled.

The class is designed to be a hands-on learning environment and kicked off its first trip on Aug. 30, where students went out on rafts to complete a confidence and cooperation lesson. Each student had the opportunity to lead the group and direct each other through the two-hour excursion.

“When we went rafting, everyone was kind of shy,” Thompson said. “As we got to know each other, communication became much easier and we work like a nice oiled machine.”

Interest in having an Outdoor Leadership program came from Jason Cyr, who previously had a similar, smaller-scale program at Waterville Junior High School that went away due to a loss in funding.

“We have seen a lot of interest in the program because there is a lot of need in the industry,” said Cyr, the Outdoor Leadership instructor. “The program is designed to get the kids the skill set to go out into the workforce as guides. I’ve got a few students that want to be game wardens and some that want to be forest rangers, so it’s a pretty wide spectrum. The benefit of this program is that students (that complete the program) can go right into the workforce or into a four-year degree program in multiple disciplines that have to do with the outdoors.”

On Thursday, for example, students were down at Messalonskee Stream near the high school installing a dock that was purchased with money from a grant.

“I chose this program because I hunt, fish and whitewater raft and thought this would be a great way for me to get more knowledge on these topics,” Jon Roy, a senior at Lawrence High School, said. “This gives you a break out of school and (Cyr) has a lot of knowledge on these subjects. He is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.”

Ryan Gilman, left, Wyatt Belmont, back left center, Shaylie Morrison, back center, Michael Richards, right center foreground, and Morgan Presbyat, far right, carry their raft back to Waterville Senior High School on Aug. 30, after a day on Messalonskee Stream as part of the new Outdoor Leadership and Natural Resource Management course at Mid Maine Technical Center. Michael G. Seamans

Mid-Maine Technical Center is located at Waterville Senior High School and enrolls around 450 students from Lawrence, Messalonskee and Winslow high schools, Temple Academy, Snow Pond Arts Academy and Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, as well as home-schooled students. Each of the 13 programs offer a specific licensing opportunity following completion and are catered to work as a one- to two-year program.

“Part of our responsibility is to stay current with what students are interested in,” said Peter Hallen, director of the Mid-Maine Technical Center. “We need to look at businesses and the current industry and see what the needs are.”

The Outdoor Leadership and Natural Resource Management program is being taught by Cyr, who previously taught biology at Waterville Junior High School. In the days that the program has been alive, he says that students have expressed interest in several of the different career paths that can be tailored into the curriculum.

“It was great to see the kids meeting the cooperative goal and working together,” Cyr said. “This year, we will be learning everything from whitewater rafting, canoeing, hunter safety (as well as) working with dogs and training dogs to hunt and retrieve. They will also learn a little bit about forestry and wildlife species management.”

According to Hallen, a partnership with Unity College is in the works to allow students to receive dual-enrollment credits. An agreement has not been signed, he said on Sept. 4, but he is meeting with the college later this week to discuss programming and credit options.

The need for this program has increased as certain industries, including the Maine Warden Service, are expecting a “retirement bubble” in the coming years, where it is expected that 25 to 30 wardens will retire around the same time, according to Cyr. Because of this, the program advisory committee that Cyr has worked with to develop the program has continued to grow with industry members, local businesses and other involved parties.

Annabelle Emery, a senior at Lawrence High School in Fairfield, said that she chose the course because she believes the skills learned in the program can apply to any career field.

“I joined because I like to do outdoor things anyway,” she said. “It’s a nice way to get more experience and help me in whatever field I go into. We’re learning how to multitask and how to keep cool in certain situations, which is something that can be applied anywhere. (Cyr) is amazing because he explains everything in detail and pays attention to what our needs are.”

“I’m most excited to have my kids help me come up with and prepare for Skills USA,” said Cyr, whose son participated in the Criminal Justice program. Skills USA is a workforce partnership competition that allows students to show what they have learned through their education in a competition, on both regional and national levels.

“Last year, we showed up for skills night and watched what was going on. Seeing the aura that surrounded the kids when they were being awarded was so exciting. I can’t wait to be a proud Papa Bear sitting there and watching them show off what they have learned.”


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