When Matt Rodgers teaches a student to paddle a kayak or catch a fish, he has specific skills he wants the student to learn. However, his real lesson plan is much larger.

"We are trying to take students that are struggling in school, that don't want to come to school, that are threatening to be dropouts, and we are trying to get them invested through building relationships with each other and with the school social workers," Rodgers, a social worker with Goodhue County Education District, said.

To do this, he and other staff members frequently use a program called Student Educational Adventures - SEA, a program housed in the River Bluff Education Center near Red Wing High School. The SEA program is partially funded by GCED and receives significant support from United Way.

Students at River Bluff Education Center have been diagnosed as special education or at-risk students. They come to River Bluff from six districts in Goodhue County-Lake City, Goodhue, Zumbrota, Cannon Falls, Kenyon and Red Wing, Rodgers explained.

Students come to River Bluff because "they are having behavior issues," Rodgers said, "so our goal in this building is to help them with those behaviors so they can function in school and go back to their main school district."

One of the most important programs in helping students develop those skills is SEA, designed specifically for high school students. The students are in regular education classes such as math and English most days, but do SEA activities one day each week.

"You plan all these things for a class," Rodgers said, "but when you get out there, there are a thousand other things you get to learn. We talk about tracks, plants, animals, the food chain. There is so much more to it than you can ever describe. The kids just realize how fabulous nature is."

SEA of parts

There are four parts to the program beginning with a fall challenge course. Rodgers and other staff members teach students team-building skills. When those skills are in place, the students then learn how to teach those skills to others, so they can make presentations to third- and fourth-grade students at other area schools.

"It is really cool to see these kids teaching," Rodgers said. "It is awesome to watch them from the first day we meet them until they are working with these little kids."

With the addition of new kayaks to the program this year, Rodgers said the fall program will add kayak lessons so students can paddle on several bodies of water in Goodhue County.

"We are going to teach these kids how to become really good at kayaking and show them the benefits of it," Rodgers said. "Within all of our courses, we always do those team-building activities."

One of the most popular programs in SEA is the winter survival program.

"They really like the challenge of that," Rodgers said. "They learn survival skills throughout eight weeks. Then they sleep overnight outside, usually at the end of February."

Students learn firebuilding, cooking, shelter building and snowshoeing if there is enough snow.

The spring course focuses on the health of water and teaches students kayaking, fishing, hiking, mushroom hunting, and more.

"We are trying to get them into some healthy habits that they can use for the rest of their lives," Rodgers said. "Some of the things they are not quite sure about, but then they do it, and they enjoy it."

Habitat for Humanity

Finally, students who are juniors or seniors and have successfully completed the other courses can qualify for the Habitat for Humanity course. Ten students from GCED go to Ft. Myers, Fla., and work on a Habitat for Humanity house for a week.

"Most of the kids have not traveled that far before," Rodgers said, "and that is probably the most gratifying part of it. Our staff gets to have that experience with these kids who often have not seen anything outside of this county. The kids are often nervous, but it is the capstone trip to those other classes."

This year, Rodgers adopted a service dog, Maude, whose owner had passed away. He brought Maude to school, and the students instantly loved her. He now brings her to school three days per week. Although she is not directly a part of the SEA program, she, like the program, works to keep students happy and involved in school.

Rodgers has been involved in SEA, a program started by his late brother, Chris, in 1994, for 20 years.

"People ask my why I want to stay in a program such as this, because of the severe behaviors I work with," Rodgers said. "It's simple. I love the kids. This program has an effect."