My Journey to TOTAL NM

By Allison Martin, TOTAL NM Executive Director

It was the chance of a lifetime! A milestone to be a part of something bigger than myself, my organization, and my perspective on outdoor learning. I applied for the first-of-its-kind Exploring Equitable Education Outdoors Fellowship that was being offered through Environmental Education of New Mexico…and I was one of the 17 individuals selected!  In February 2020, I joined a team of other professionals and leaders from across the state on a journey to discover new possibilities for outdoor education. Little did I know that the friendships, programs, and initiatives that came out of this initiative were bigger than I ever had imagined at that time.

This was also the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything was changing around me at that time, including my programs at work. I could no longer visit with students in person and the world had to find new, innovative ways to reach each other. I, too, had to learn how to become creative quickly if I wanted to continue to reach students. I started making short videos of content that I normally would have done in person, and I found enjoyment in it. I found my niche again in reaching students and working with partners to create video content to send to classes in different areas of the state. 

In July of 2020 we had a virtual retreat for the fellowship program. We all sat around our computers with one another all day that Friday, each of us working from home. We worked tirelessly through ideas we had been thinking about for months (and years!) trying to weave our ideas together to find clear paths forward for outdoor education. We had to dig deep – deeper than I had ever dug in this work. I sat there with what I knew, what others knew, and how we could find the dots to make real recommendations that we wanted to see in this work. I will forever see this day as a day of change and opportunity for outdoor education. The many years of voices, leadership, ideas, and conversations, had led to the moment of conclusions and clarity for a clear path forward. I remember the exact feeling I had at that moment that I got to be a small part of it! We worked together, creating a shared statewide vision and framework for supporting equitable environmental learning and access to the outdoors: Every Kid, Every Day, Every Way: A multi-year shared vision and strategy to provide daily equitable access to the outdoors and environmental learning for all New Mexico kids. This document was officially released in 2021!

Ever since that moment, watching the manifestation of those ideas grow has been sitting in my mind as I continued with my work. Then, in 2021, I got an opportunity to join the Board for Environmental Education of New Mexico. What an honor it was to be able to sit with this work through a whole new lens. Then, towards the end of 2022, I joined the staff to help initiate programs and opportunities to continue to push ideas and the work forward. 

While working on staff, I had an opportunity to dig into the work of Every Kid Every Day Every Way and be a part of facilitating the final retreat for the second cohort of the Exploring Equitable Education Outdoors Fellowship in December of 2022. Here, we worked with one another to create clear, supporting messaging that was needed to strengthen the recommendations in Every Kid Every Day Every Way. These messages have since continued to sit with me on how I could be a part of what we all saw as the next pivotal steps. 

Towards the end of 2023, it was beginning to become clear to me after leading an Outdoor Classroom event in August, that I needed to help grow and support outdoor classrooms. That summer, I co-facilitated a third-grade teacher workshop to help teachers see clear pathways to start outdoor spaces at their schools. It was so much fun to work with them and hear what they needed. The big responses at this workshop stayed in my mind like the smell of rain after a storm. They said, “I want and need more of this. I need my principal to be here. This kind of work needs more support and the effort to grow outdoor spaces needs to be bigger.” How could I be an answer to these requests?

I sat down one evening to look at Every Kid Every Day Every Way and focused on recommendation number three which talks about the need for accessible outdoor classrooms and read it aloud to myself several times while looking at the supporting messages on how to get this effort started.

That was it! A lightbulb was suddenly so bright! That was my calling. It was time to hone in on outdoor classrooms and do the work that so many have said they wanted to see. I had the background, the leaders in the community, and a team of support. A team that was truly, deeply rooted in this work through the many angles of perspective and light they all brought. We formed a team of impactful individuals, some of whom have been on this journey for many years and were part of the formation of the work, some who were side by side with us in the fellowship work, some who were with us in partnership opportunities in one way or another, and others who joined us along the way in ways that added different light, direction, and new, much-needed changes we never even knew we needed.

It was time. I took every piece of my background, everything I had learned along the way, every conversation that was had, every idea that was shared, and every piece of advice that was given to help, and I marched forward to begin this work. We had everything we needed and the legs to stand on to help it grow. This was the beginning of TOTAL NM (Teaching Outdoors to ALL Learners). This will be the place where our team can work together to grow outdoor spaces at schools for all students of all abilities. 

This was our opportunity to start this new journey together. By having my team with me, we aren’t afraid to fail because we know we can’t give up. We can see this need grow and be a changing piece for outdoor equitable access for so many students across the state. We could be that connector piece that we have wanted to see. I am so incredibly grateful for so many people along the way and especially grateful for Eileen Everett, for creating the space to get the work started, and for her leadership and belief in me that changed my life and outlook on outdoor education. With dedication, commitment, and passion, change can happen. This summer, we will begin our first efforts towards growing outdoor classrooms through an Outdoor Education Leadership Program that will be a starting point to create, improve, grow, and sustain accessible outdoor classroom spaces for the direct benefit of all students!!

Thank you to everyone who is joining us to grow this effort as we all have been saying for so many years that we want to see. Thank you to everyone who is growing the efforts in Every Kid Every Day Every Way through their lens of work as we work side by side, creating the next phase of impactful efforts to support growing and lasting change for outdoor education for all students across New Mexico!

Learn more in A Look at Every Kid, Every Day, Every Way Three Years Post-Release: A Reflection on Connections, Shared Power, and Lasting Change