Woman holding binoculars Join today and get outside at one of our 60+ wildlife sanctuaries.
Woman holding binoculars Join today and get outside at one of our 60+ wildlife sanctuaries.
Man with a gray Mass Audubon shirt and blue glove holding a peregrine falcon.
Blue Hills Trailside Museum, Milton

Rites of Passage Program Connects Boston Students with Nature

January 10, 2024

On top of windy Chicatawbut Hill, Boston seventh graders are being blown away by nature! In 2022, Mass Audubon and the Boston Public Schools STEM Department launched the “Rites of Passage” program to connect Boston middle school students with the wonders of nature during an important developmental time in their lives, and to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards.

A dozen students sitting on a hill, overlooking a canopy of trees

“I used to think nature was really boring, but now I think it’s really cool!”  

— Rites of Passage Student 

Now in its second year, the program is a 30-hour immersive, overnight educational experience at Chickatawbut Hill in the 7,000-acre Blue Hills reservation. Rites of Passage offers students place-based, STEM, and leadership learning opportunities in nature, focusing on community, leadership, climate, and environmental education outdoors.  

Rites of Passage Impact

Research has shown that children who frequently spend time in natural environments show signs of better health, improved cognitive function, lower stress levels, and stronger social skills. During the program, many of the students have shared that they’ve never been on an overnight adventure or in the woods before. The program provides a unique opportunity for these students to be in nature, learn in a new environment, and participate in new experiences. 

Small group of students observing a hawk shown to them by an educator

The program was an astonishing success in its first year—receiving praise from teachers, students, parents, and school leadership:  

“Our students laughed and learned and worked through various challenges together as teams. They got to explore nature and see Boston in ways they hadn’t previously....Thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting together such a wonderful experience.” 

— Teacher, Ohrenberger school 

Lessons Learned from Rites of Passage

The Rites of Passage curriculum is designed for 21st century learning: developing and asking questions, planning and carrying out investigations, meeting non-releasable injured wildlife, and observing and documenting the natural world. These hands-on, unique experiential activities strengthen knowledge and retention of STEM content, climate change, and place-based environmental education.  

Hands-on activities build confidence, create community, and strengthen retention of STEM content, climate change concepts, and environmental learning: all activities relate back to our program goals to foster an environment where students feel a sense of belonging, deepen their sense of self, feel more comfortable expressing opinions, and build skills that will translate back to their school and community. Teambuilding helps develop their school community and grow important interpersonal and leadership skills. 

A dozen students sitting on a rock wall and writing in their journals

“Some students have even said that they really enjoyed not having their phones for two days to enjoy time with their friends and with nature!”  

— Laney Marcotte, Mass Audubon Education Coordinator, Blue Hills