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Development of a Leisure Center in France

2002, by Jean-Paul Braux

The action takes place in the Puy de Dôme, a French department located in the region of Auvergne.
The Federation of the Laic Associations of the Puy of Dome (FAL63), constantly concerned by an education to citizenship, wishes, among other objectives, to enable different publics to develop a global and critical approach, in particular on environment. This organism federates more than 500 associations whose activities are very diverse (culture and/or sports, professional insertion...). It offers its members (more than 30.000 persons in this department) various resources: projects follow-up, logistics (demonstrations organization, disposal of material, of animators...), insurance service...
The Federation is not only at the service of its members, it also organizes actions in direction of the general public. In this case, it rather plays the role of a local agency representing the national organization (the League of Education and of Professional Education) and implementing its main values: citizenship, solidarity and secularism.
In fact, the Education League program of Environmental Education (EE) and Education to Sustainable Development aims at developing educational projects that integrate a global action for a "world citizens’ training". In this context, FAL63 launches a project of diversification in its leisure and holiday Centers. Its objective, among others, is to transform the Chadieu center (in Authezat, Puy de Dôme) into an attractive pole in terms of EE.

The Center of Chadieu and its intervening parties

The Leisure Center of Chadieu is located in a park of 32 ha next to the Allier River. This site belongs to an inter-cities union (4 townships). The forest and arboretum parts are managed by the Spaces and Landscapes Conservatory of Auvergne. FAL63 supports the planning and follow-up of the buildings and organizes activities in the Center. The maintenance of the surroundings, hedges and walls are supported by the union. The prairies are reaped by a farmer from one of the townships. Let us also mention the existence of a private enclave with a castle from the 18th Century. The difficulties generated by this plurality of intervening parties will be evoked below.

Activities and publics

Objectives:

-  to present ecosystems integrated in their economic context,
-  to develop a citizen behavior,
-  to sensitize and incite to a multidisciplinary, systemic and complex approach,
-  to improve and constitute educational tools.

Activities:

1. Schools (pupils welcomed for a day, without accommodation)

Scientific activities
The pupils, from kindergarten to University, can discover the different ecosystems of the site (alluvial forest, pools, hedges...), directed by their teacher. This discovery can be completed by the intervention of specific animation elaborated in collaboration with the teacher and using educational documentation (and notably cards that help sensitizing to the systemic and complex approach).

Sporty activities
The sporty activities (during or out of the school schedule) can be practiced in a classic way. But they also organize discoveries of the landscape with mountain bikes, meso-environment explorations via climbing, thematic orientation courses (pools, hedges...). During these activities, the youth are informed on notions of ecology, geography and history, and they are confronted to assess the impact of their activity on environment.

Leisure center
The children from 7 to 16 are welcomed during holiday and some Wednesdays (day off for the primary schools). The youth leaders propose various leisure activities: different games, constructions (huts, micro-rockets...), free relaxation.

In coordination with the animation team, the site and premises are provided with displays and signals aimed at provoking a citizen behavior on the use of water, of electricity, of the trees (construction of huts)... This process is also reinforced by specific animation activities and prepared or spontaneous debates.

2. Trainers, animators

The FAL63 provides the site, the classrooms, scientific material and documentation for the organization of training to teachers, youth leaders and engineers in agriculture. It also proposes to students in teaching and to animators of EE organizations additional training on the specific methods for a complex approach.

3. The large public

The park of Chadieu is free of access for the large public (walkers, cyclists, horse riders). The different parties responsible of the site are about to install descriptive panels and beacons, which will be both informative (playing, ecological and historic aspects) and interactive. Questions, enigmas, propositions of track games consist as many means to challenge and to sensitize to the specific environmental problems in this site and to its use. These methods incite the visitors to adopt a complex approach of the place and also invite them to have a citizen behavior while practicing the activity chosen by the person or the group.

Assessment, obstacles

In the school context

Among various dysfunctions, we could observe recurrent incoherence and contradictions from some teachers and youth leaders. Two examples:

- Leisure center: in spite of the information and recommendations of the Conservatory representatives on the use of the trees for the huts construction, the children did not respect the orders (trees species and localization). Is it because of a maladjusted sensitization method (speech, necessary knowledge to recognize the trees...), and/or an absence of relay from the animation team to look after the good execution of this activity (lack of scientific knowledge of the team, management of the group)?
- Classes: several times different teachers brought a class to study the "pool" ecosystem of the site which contains newts (protected species). They can reach the place following a path that crosses a prairie ready to be cut. How can we understand the behavior of a group (teacher and pupils) that is aware of the recommendations (protected newts, prairie to be cut...) when:
-  on both ways the group scatters in the prairie and lets various packing (sweet and snack papers, bottle of water...),
-  the pupils appropriate the newts, observe them out of the water and then let them on the side.
Given these contradictions and incoherence, we can wonder about the citizenship exercise, the respect not only of the concerned living beings but also of the human activities in relation to this environment (cutting, maintenance). What can we do on the spot to bring a teacher have a responsible behavior and incite his pupils to the same (Environmental Education must not be reduced to a pseudo-naturalistic outing for the year end!) ? This is an important educational stake for the "school tourism", a newborn sector in France. Obviously, we can and must act at the level of the initial and full training for teachers and group leaders. But it is urgent to find sensitization tools adapted to this kind of public.

The intervening planners

What to do with this site? The former inter-cities union was not clear on its intentions and carried internal divergence (big arboretum, leisure park, fishing base..?). The new union, since April 2001, seems more interested by a park that would offer "discoveries circuits" and spaces for rest and relaxation. The Spaces and Landscapes Conservatory, acting both as a technical council for the union and as the alluvial forest administrator, wanted to isolate part of the site from the public for an experimental reserve zone. Finally the FAL63 wanted its Environmental Education project to be taken into account, which obliged the two previous partners to review their action orientations, especially because the activities planned by the Federation intervened in a larger territory. Given these complex aspects (unclearness, divergence, contradictions, interactions of the system constituted by the intervening parties), a process of mediation-training was set up aiming at informing on the environmental stakes (impacts of the project development and of the leisure and education activities). Meetings between the various intervening parties were organized in order to provoke exchanges and debates, which are indispensable for a better mutual knowledge. Little by little, the progressive emergence of conceptions and discussion on each others projects brings an internal consistency, pledge for a potential success of the common project: to transform this site in a place for education and pleasure in the respect of each. The "mediation-training" can become more elaborate with a specific training and methods for mediators / group leaders.

Perspectives

Among others:
-  follow-up of the mediation-training process by enlarging it to the many institutional partners involved (Local Authorities, representatives of the Ministry of Environment...),
-  creation of tools for school groups initiation training,
-  development action involving young people in the setting of an international workshop that would be planned within a multi-year EE project ("Youth and Reconstruction"),
-  connection between the Auvergne Regional Network for Environmental Education (a regional resource system gathering public departments, educational organizations, territorial communities, nature reserves) and POLIS network (an international network for exchange and non formal education pole).