Lane County: A one-of-a-kind high school program grows young journalists, naturalists and leaders.

While the future of journalism is on rocky ground, one high school program is taking journalistic inquiry to a higher level—through the power of outdoor education and leadership.

At Springfield High School in Eugene, Ivan Miller teaches language arts and journalism. He also worked with his English students to launch a program called MINE—the Miller Integrated Nature Experience—in 2015. More than just an English and Journalism class, the MINE program takes high schoolers on challenging outdoor adventures that catalyze leadership skills and comradery. Building on outdoor experiences, the students investigate topics they care about and report on those topics in the extraordinary magazines they produce, Sonder and Backcountry Review.

“In a world where journalism programs across the country are crumbling, this is the one way that we’ve found to not only produce and pay for it, but increase awareness and expand education about environmental topics that we cover and that we see out in the field,” Miller says.

In Springfield public schools, more than half of students are navigating some kind of poverty, and families don’t often have the opportunity to go explore nature, even though they’re community is bordered by the Willamette and McKenzie Rivers and natural forests all around.

“We have kids who are affluent have been outdoors. We’ve had kids who didn’t own a pair of shoes,” Miller says.

One high school senior arrived in Ivan’s class wrought with hardships. Her mom had been in prison. She didn’t have much experience outdoors until the class went on an epic, 40-mile backpacking trip along the Rogue River Trail. The trip uncovered her love of photography, and she ended up getting a Ford Scholarship to cover most of her tuition at the University of Oregon.

Support from the Gray Family Foundation—via the Springfield Education Foundation, which provides innovative learning grants throughout the district—has sustained MINE from its launch. The funding goes toward transportation, outdoor gear, and the expenses of producing the magazine.

The success of MINE has led to an overflowing of community support, including new partnerships with the Portland Audubon Society, University of Oregon School of Journalism and National Forest Youth Corps.

“The kids that Ivan is able to reach and work with through this program reflect those demographics,” says Ronnel Curry, Executive Director of the Springfield Education Foundation, which disseminates grants across Springfield Public Schools to enable bright futures for students. “This program has changed these kids’ lives.”