Cushing and Hope schools among recipients of mini-grants for outdoor learning programs


CUSHING and HOPE — Elementary schools in Cushing and Hope are among 160 public schools in Maine that have received funding for their outdoor learning projects.

The shift to outdoor learning during the pandemic has offered schools the opportunity to reinvent their classrooms and the lessons they teach. The Maine Environmental Education Association (MEEA) has worked to support this opportunity by distributing nearly $200,000 this school year, funding 160 schools across the state, in all 16 counties. Teachers use these funds to teach students about the natural world, provide them with skills that enable independence, and provide them with more time outdoors.

For the 2021-2022 school year, educators have received up to $1,500 to support projects in the categories Outdoor Classroom Solutions, Weather Gear, Garden/Greenhouse, Outdoor Recreation, Exploration Science, Outdoor Art, Curriculum and Professional Development, Snowshoeing and Bird Watching. Nominees showcased new and creative ways to engage students in the outdoors and reported the wide range of positive impacts on their students, from increased school attendance to academic learning outcomes and improved mental and physical health.

At Cushing Community School, grant funds were used to build a history pathway. Community volunteers designed, built and installed a series of ‘storyboards’ which are placed along a pathway. The intent is for students, classes, and/or families to walk the path and enjoy a book along the way.

“This wonderful new resource would not be possible without the support of community members who volunteered their time, energy and expertise,” Principal Dawn Jones said in a Maine Environmental Education press release. Association. “Team Green’s vision was to inspire all students to engage with the natural world, leading to an understanding of how all living things are connected and supported with the help of caring communities. The Story Path is another step on this journey, and we couldn’t have created it without the help of our own caring community.

At Hope Elementary School, MEEA funds have been used to purchase tools and materials that have improved outdoor learning spaces and expanded the scope and benefits of nature-based learning.

“Our ability to be outdoors, learn and grow through the seasons has been supported by the gear that keeps us warm and dry, the tools we have used to co-create our learning spaces outdoors and the materials to engage us in ongoing, meaningful, nature-based curriculum,” said teacher Sarah Schafer.

In the fall of 2020, the MEEA launched the Outdoor Learning Mini-Grants Program, a program to redistribute funds to help teachers imagine outdoor classrooms. As enthusiasm for community environmental learning has grown over the past two years, MEEA has continued to support teachers with these grants.

This year, teachers have worked to close the gap between school funding and the needs of their students. Often with limited resources, teachers are carrying out incredible projects, engaging a variety of students, and taking outdoor learning to new expanses across the state. The impact of these projects supports thousands of young people across the state! Supporting teachers and schools in the pursuit of outdoor learning is a core part of MEEA’s mission as the organization strives to enhance and amplify the efforts of individuals and organizations that raise awareness of environment, promote appreciation and understanding of the environment, and take action to create equitable and resilient communities.

“We at MEEA are so grateful to the amazing educators who have worked so hard this year to get their students learning outdoors!” said MEEA executive director Olivia Griset. “Research shows that learning outdoors has extremely positive mental and physical health benefits as well as academic benefits for young people. We also know that not all young people have access to the outdoors, which is a matter of environmental justice. These teachers and projects taking place in public schools across the state are helping to ensure that our young people have positive experiences as they gain a deeper connection to nature in their local community. We are grateful to to all the people who donated to make this project possible and to all the INCREDIBLE teachers for their incredible work!”

MEEA continues to seek impactful partnerships with local communities and organizations during this changing cultural and environmental climate, as the equity-focused environmental work that MEEA creates plays a key role in building an eco-friendly Maine. ‘environment ; where everyone can engage civically and understand the relationship between their well-being and that of their environment.

MEEA plans to maintain this program by opening another round of applications this fall for the 2022-2023 school year. If you or your organization are interested in donating to this fund, please contact [email protected]!


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