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 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 are using the funds to teach students about the natural world, provide them with skills that enable independence and ensure they have more time outdoors, according to a press release from the association.
In the fall of 2020, the association launched the Mini-Grants for Outdoor Learning 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, the association has continued to support teachers with these grants.
For the 2021-2022 school year, educators have received up to $1,500 to support projects in the categories Outdoor Classroom Solutions, Bad Weather Gear, Garden/Greenhouse, Outdoor Recreation, Exploration Science, Outdoor Art, Curriculum and Professional Development, Snowshoeing and Birdwatching. Nominees showcased new and creative ways to engage students in the outdoors and pointed to the wide range of positive impacts on their students, from increased school attendance to academic learning outcomes and improving mental and physical health.
According to Olivia Griset, Executive Director of MEEA, “At MEEA, we are so grateful to the incredible educators who have worked so hard this year to bring their students to learn outdoors. Research shows that outdoor learning 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 an environmental justice issue. These teachers and projects taking place in public schools across the state help ensure that our young people have positive experiences as they gain a deeper connection to nature in their local community. We are grateful to all the people who donated to make this project possible and to all the great teachers for their incredible work.
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, according to MEEA.
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.
At TWK Dirigo Middle School in Dixfield, the funds were used to purchase binoculars, magnifying glasses, soil and water strips as well as a greenhouse and gardening and composting supplies.
Oak Hill Middle School in Sabattus used grant funds to purchase five picnic tables. After picnic tables arrived, teachers quickly began using them to rotate classes in an outdoor classroom environment. This allowed students to have mask breaks and fresh air.
Lewiston Middle School used MEEA grant funds to take seventh graders to the YMCA Outdoor Education Center. Teacher Michelle Deblois said, “In Lewiston Public Schools, many of our students have never set foot outside the cityscape. This opportunity allowed students to discover the soothing and rejuvenating joys of the outdoors.
Spruce Mountain Elementary School in Livermore has used its funds to invest in rain suits for kindergartens, as rainy days often disrupt plans to take students outdoors. Teacher Tracey Butterfield reported on how much the students enjoy learning in nature: “The kindergarten students went out, wearing our rain suits, to explore shapes in nature to go with our math unit on shapes . Students were encouraged to collect objects that matched the shapes we were learning.
The association 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 continue this program by opening another round of applications this fall for the 2022-23 school year. To learn more about this fund, email [email protected].
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