Creating a ‘Healthy, Happy Student Population’ Through Outdoor Learning

East Foundation brings Texas students ‘behind the gates’ to learn ranching and respect for the environment
Mar 28, 2024 1:10 PM ET
Students participating in outdoor learning
South Texas students at a learning station on the East Foundation’s El Sauz Ranch are educated in topics such as wildlife conservation, land stewardship, and the importance of watersheds. Photo credit: Jonathan Vail.

Station by station, students visiting the El Sauz Ranch in South Texas explore what happens behind the scenes at a working ranch.

At one station, they will learn how cattle are cared for and provide food. The next covers the ranch’s watershed and the importance of protecting the health of nearby bays and estuaries. Another delves into the conservation of native plants and wildlife, such as the endangered ocelot, a spotted wild cat found near the Gulf of Mexico.

East Foundation began offering education programs, dubbed Behind the Gates, in 2014, motivated by research that shows kids who learn outdoors are “healthier, smarter, happier,” says Tina Buford, director of education at the Foundation.

“We’re able to help students learn while also increasing their connectedness to nature,” she adds.

Each of the Foundation’s educators specialize in the Texas science curriculum, helping K-12 students understand the practical application of what they study in textbooks. In 2023, more than 14,000 young learners across the Rio Grande Valley participated in East Foundation programs.

Buoyed by the demand for their offerings, the Foundation opened a new education center at the 27,000-acre El Sauz ranch in 2022. A large main pavilion serves as a receiving and congregation space, complementing the six smaller pavilions that serve as learning stations positioned along a walking trail winding around the education center.

In support of the initiative, Enbridge recently awarded the Foundation a Fueling Futures grant of $15,000 to fund a learning station.

Each year, the Foundation helps thousands of youth form stronger connections to the land—and the East Foundation’s work to foster sustainability and educate future generations of students aligns with our company’s commitment to protecting the environment.

Today’s young learners often don’t have a clear understanding of what happens at a working ranch and how it’s relevant in their lives, Buford says. “We’re helping them understand that the land provides them with valuable natural resources for their lives,” she explains.

“Getting kids outdoors contributes to academic success and a healthy, happy student population. It contributes to life satisfaction.”