STATE – The shift to outdoor learning during the pandemic has presented schools with an opportunity to redesign their classrooms and the classes they teach. The Maine Environmental Education Association (MEEA) 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 Fall 2020, MEEA launched the Mini-Grants for Outdoor Learning Program, a program that aims to reallocate funds to support teachers in their vision for outdoor classrooms. As enthusiasm for community-based environmental learning has increased over the past two years, MEEA has continued to support teachers with these grants.
For the 2021-2022 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 Bird Watching. Applicants demonstrated new and creative ways to engage students in the outdoors and shared the diverse positive impacts they have had on their students, from increased school enrollment to academic learning outcomes to improved mental and physical health.
MEEA Managing Director Olivia Griset shared: “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, 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. Thank you to everyone who donated to make this project possible and to all of the AMAZING teachers for their incredible work!”
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 critical part of MEEA’s mission as the organization strives to enhance 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 Roberts Farm in RSU 17, the funds helped expand the outdoor gear that students can borrow when they visit. Buying quality rain gear has made outdoor experiences in rainy weather a possibility. Funds have also been set aside for a set of Crazy Creek chairs for the class to ensure students can sit comfortably outdoors. Reflecting on the experiences of the school year at Roberts Farm, the teachers said, “I love that they have the opportunity to learn in a non-traditional setting… Children don’t realize they’re even learning or how much they’re learning.” learn because we’re coming out of the four walls of a classroom!’”
At Agnes Gray Elementary School, grant funds were used to purchase 20 nylon hammocks to build two Reading Groves. The students helped clear the spaces in the forest and hang up the hammocks after creating a protocol for maintaining the new common spaces. Outdoor Learning Coordinator Sarah Timm reports: “Our children’s faces change completely when they leave their seats and go outside; they transform into enthusiastic, active learners. They are looking for experiences to learn and explore. They are better regulated and more engaged.
MEEA continues to seek impactful partnerships with local communities and organizations during this changing cultural and environmental climate, as the equitable environmental work created by MEEA plays a key role in building an environmentally conscious Maine; where all people can engage in civic engagement and understand the relationship between their well-being and that of their environment.
MEEA plans to continue this program by opening another application round for the 2022-2023 school year next fall. If you or your organization are interested in making a donation to this fund, please contact [email protected]!