The NorthBay Adventure Center, located in northeastern Maryland and situated on the Chesapeake Bay, offers five-day residential programs for middle school students through a combination of environmental education, adventure activities, and character development. This programming takes a constructivist approach by combining on-site experiential learning with students’ social and environmental challenges at home. NorthBay has the goal of improving students’ attitudes and behaviors in regards to environmental responsibility, character development and leadership, and attitudes toward school.
This evaluation focuses on the program’s impact on urban and non-urban middle school students in the areas of environmental responsibility, character development and leadership, and attitudes toward school. This involved reviewing two years of pre-experience, immediate post-experience, and three-month follow-up data from NorthBay.
A participatory process with NorthBay staff helped the researchers design the evaluation system. The survey instruments were developed and pilot-tested with 265 students from five schools during 2005. NorthBay staff gave pre- and post-experience surveys to all students during three sampling weeks in the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years. Follow-up surveys were also administered in students’ classrooms three months after their trip to NorthBay.
According to Keith Williams, Director of Education and Media at NorthBay, the evaluation helped identify gaps and needs in staff training. The results are also used as a marketing tool—funders and schools want to know what effect the program is having on students, and disseminating this data has made that possible. Lastly, the results are used to help NorthBay staff stay focused on their mission.