The shift to outdoor learning during the pandemic has presented schools with an opportunity to reinvent their classrooms and the lessons they teach. The Maine Environmental Education Association worked to support this opportunity by distributing nearly $200,000 this school year and funding 160 schools across the state in all 16 counties.
Teachers use these tools to teach students about the outdoors, provide them with skills that enable their independence, and ensure they spend more time outside.
In the fall of 2020, the association launched the Mini-Grants for Outdoor Learning program, which aims to reallocate funds to support teachers in how they envision outdoor classrooms. As enthusiasm for community-based environmental learning has increased over the past two years, it has continued to support teachers with these grants.
For the 2021-22 school year, educators received up to $1,500 to support projects in the categories of Outdoor Classroom Solutions, Inclement Weather Gear, Garden/Greenhouse, Outdoor Recreation, Scientific Exploration, Outdoor Art, Curriculum and Professional Development, Snowshoeing and more bird watching. According to a press release from the association, the applicants demonstrated new and creative ways to engage students in the outdoors and reported the diverse positive impacts on their students, from increased school attendance and academic learning to improved mental and physical health.
According to Olivia Griset, Executive Director of MEEA, “At MEEA we are so grateful for the amazing educators who have worked so hard this year to bring their students outside of learning! Research shows that learning outdoors has tremendously positive mental and physical health benefits, as well as academic benefits for teens. We also know that not all young people have access to nature, which is an environmental justice issue. These teachers and projects being conducted in public schools across the state are helping our youth have positive experiences by gaining a deeper connection to nature in their local community.”
This year, teachers have strived to bridge the gap between school funding and the needs of their students. Often with limited resources, teachers undertake incredible projects, engage a variety of students, and take outdoor learning to new heights across the state. The impact of these projects supports thousands of youth across the state! Supporting teachers and schools in their pursuit of outdoor learning is a crucial part of the association’s mission as the organization strives to improve and amplify the efforts of individuals and organizations that build environmental awareness, appreciation and understanding of the environment promote and take action to create equitable and resilient communities.
At Cony Middle/High School, teacher Brenda Weis used her scholarship funds to initially purchase a pop-up tent, bike repair parts for several donated bikes, a bike stand, a bike pump, and several bike tools. She also purchased 10 camping seat cushions and clipboards to add to an existing inventory – enough for a class of 25 students. She also purchased Sibley’s Backyard Birds of the Northeast Folding Field Guides along with binoculars and a Cornell Lab of Ornithology online course Let’s Go Outside! How to Connect Kids with Birds and Nature, which she will complete this summer. Eventually, she bought storage containers in which to store these materials.
Palermo Consolidated School used its grant to improve the pathway system around the school.
At Richmond Middle/High School, the grant funds were used to purchase 12 Razor scooters to complement an existing cycling program. The need was recognized to give students who were not yet able to ride a bike the opportunity to get around on two wheels.
Kristen Bullard of China Primary School used her money to buy explorer bags, binoculars, magnifying glasses and field books to provide meaningful outdoor learning experiences for her kindergarten children. Rain boots were another important resource funded by the grant.
Gardiner Area High School teacher Sharon Gallant purchased 46 camping or bag chairs, two easels, 50 magnetic white clipboards, and 50 markers with erasers to write on the boards. She also bought two trolleys to store all of the materials and two monthly calendar boards to attach to the wall for teachers to sign in and reserve chairs for their lesson.
Albion Elementary School’s KVCAP Pre-K program used grants to purchase cedar blocks to add a natural element to the playground and encourage gross motor development.
At Messalonskee Middle School in Oakland, the grant was used to purchase ice fishing equipment to support science classes. Traditional drop traps, two packing baskets, four ice skimmers, two jig rods, a bait bucket, bait, line, hook, plumb line, swivel and bait for two days of ice fishing. They also bought wood, metal, tape, and other materials so the students could make their own “perch traps.” In addition, they bought a GoPro to be able to see fish under the ice.
At Madison Elementary School, the scholarship award funded the purchase of materials to allow for expanded use of the outdoor classroom area and forest trail. Winter boots and warm socks were purchased for winter use and mud boots and tall white socks for spring/fall use.
The Canaan School purchased rain suits, boots, and water play/study materials with grants. Students could study worms, measure rainfall, try different ways to make the biggest splash, and observe nature in the rain.
North Elementary School in Skowhegan used their funds to set up an outdoor classroom, including a mud kitchen.
Clinton Elementary School upgraded their playground by purchasing two large tunnels, six binoculars, two sensory stepping stones and a set of Let’s Get Moving activity cards.
Teachers at Fairfield Primary School and Somerset Elementary School in Hartland received MEEA Mini-Grant funding to support new infrastructure at their schools and support outdoor learning.
MEEA plans to continue this program by opening another application round for the 2022-2023 school year next fall. Anyone interested in making a donation to this fund can send an email [email protected]. Visit meeassociation.org for more information.
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Filed under: Albion Maine, Augusta Maine, Canaan Maine, China Maine, Clinton Maine, Fairfield Maine, Feature, Gardiner Maine, Hartland Maine, Madison Maine, Oakland Maine, Palermo Maine, Richmond Maine, Skowhegan Maine