Hurlburt Field youth program classroom earns national recognition

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Andrea Posey
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
The Hurlburt Field Youth Program’s outdoor classroom for ages 9-12 earned national recognition as a certified Nature Explore Classroom through the Nature Explore Program in December 2016.

Hurlburt’s Nature Explore outdoor classroom is the second Department of Defense classroom for ages 9-12 to achieve certification.

“Today’s generation is so connected to things other than nature and the outdoors,” said Alvin Koposko, sports director for the Hurlburt Field Youth Center. “We must continue to connect our youth with nature by nurturing and developing healthy habits now at a young age so they can have a clearer understanding of the outdoors for their future.”

Nature Explore Program classrooms are a national initiative sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Foundation in collaboration with environmental, educational, design and health organizations. These certified classrooms are meant to foster highly-effective, nature-based outdoor learning.

“Hurlburt Field’s youth program’s commitment to providing research-based and nature-rich learning offers a wonderful example to programs and educators throughout the country,” said Heather Fox, director of communications and outreach for the Nature Explore Program. “These spaces inspire hands-on activity, creativity, play and plenty of time exploring the natural world.”

The certified classroom is a well-designed outdoor space created using principles from the Learning with Nature Idea Book from the Nature Explore Classroom program. The materials and activities in the classroom are designed to increase family awareness and involvement and regularly provide nature-based education for young children.

“The idea of certifying [the classroom] has been something we've wanted to achieve for a while now,” said Tabitha Gorse, Hurlburt Field youth program assistant. “We wanted to offer our youth a chance to be challenged in nature and push the limits of what they can create and do in their own space.”

The youth program has continued to enhance the learning environment for the bases youth as their school-aged classroom received the first certified classroom in the state of Florida. It was also first for the Department of Defense in 2009. Construction for the most recent outdoor classroom took about a year.

Gorse credits the space’s success and certification to youth program staff members and outside volunteers.

“We have had a great team of youth program staff contribute ideas and time into creating this space,” she said. “We have also had a great team of community volunteers who helped us create our entry way structure, garden areas and a climbing structure we refer to as ‘The Beehive.’”

This nature-friendly space also contains an art easel with a bench and picnic table. Additionally, there are a variety of plants, flowers and trees that are decorated with wind chimes, custom made figurines by the youth and light catchers.

“Our pre-teen youth, ranging in ages from 9-12 years old, had a first-hand experience in creating the areas for their space,” Gorse said. “They helped build ‘The Beehive’ paint area signs and plant many of our plants in the classroom as well as help to maintain the area’s upkeep. This project has really allowed our youth to [develop] a sense of ownership of their outdoor classroom.”

In the classroom, youth interact with nature by working on art projects and other daily activities. They do thinks like painting flower pots, doing homework in a hammock, throwing a football in the motor skills area and tending to the plants.

“Research has shown that getting [the] children back into nature helps youth to better focus in school and foster resilience in military communities,” said Sharon Brewer, chief of the Airman and Family Services Flight. “The tools we need to build resilient families, relieve depression and nurture spiritual health is just outside our doors.”

For more information on Hurlburt Field youth programs visit or call (850) 884-6355.