The association helps local schools by funding outdoor learning projects

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Primary school kindergarten students in China use magnifying glasses during outdoor learning in their school. Photo submitted

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 use these funds to teach students about the natural world, provide them with skills that enable independence, and provide them with more time outdoors.

In the fall of 2020, the association launched the Outdoor Learning Mini-Grant program, aimed at redistributing funds to help teachers imagine outdoor classrooms. As enthusiasm for community environmental learning has grown over the past two years, he 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 Bird Watching. According to a press release from the association, the nominees showcased new and creative ways to engage students in the outdoors and reported on the wide range of positive impacts on their students, from increased attendance education to academic learning outcomes to improved mental and physical health.

According to MEEA Executive Director, Olivia Griset, “We at MEEA are so grateful to the amazing 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.

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 an essential part of the association’s mission, as the organization strives to enhance and amplify the efforts of individuals and organizations that raise environmental awareness, foster appreciation and understanding of the environment, and take action to create equitable and resilient communities.

At Cony Middle/High School, teacher Brenda Weis used her grant funds to initially purchase a pop-up tent as well as bike repair parts for several donated bikes, a bike rack, a bike pump and several bicycle tools. She also bought 10 camp seat cushions as well as paperweights to add to an already existing stock – enough for a class of 25 students. Additionally, she purchased Sibley’s Backyard Birds of the Northeast folding field guides as well as binoculars and a Cornell Lab of Ornithology online course, “Let’s Go Outside!” How to Connect Children to Birds and Nature,” which she will complete this summer. Finally, she purchased storage bins in which to store these materials.

The Palermo Consolidated School used its grant to improve the trail system around the school.

At Richmond Middle/High School, grant funds were used to purchase 12 razor scooters to supplement an existing bike program. The need has been identified to get students who do not yet know how to ride a bicycle to get around on two wheels.

Rain boots were another important tool funded by the Maine Environmental Education Association for elementary school children in China. Photo submitted

China Elementary School’s Kristen Bullard used her funds to purchase “explorer bags”, binoculars, magnifying glasses and field manuals to create meaningful outdoor learning experiences for her kindergarten students. Rain boots were another important tool funded by the grant.

Teacher Sharon Gallant of Gardiner Area High School purchased 46 camping or bag chairs, two easels, 50 white magnetic clipboards and 50 markers with erasers to write on the boards. She also purchased two rolling carts to store all the materials and two monthly calendars that are mounted on the wall for teachers to register and reserve chairs for their class period.

At Albion Elementary School’s KVCAP Pre-K program, cedar blocks were purchased with grant funds 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 lessons; Heritage tipping traps, two baskets, four ice skimmers, two jig poles, a bait bucket, lures, line, hooks, sinkers, swivels and bait for two days of ice fishing. They also purchased wood, metal, tape, and other materials for the students to make their own “roost traps.” Also, they bought a GoPro so they could see fish under the ice.

At Madison Elementary School, the grant funded the purchase of equipment to allow for extended use of the outdoor classroom and forest trail. Winter boots and warm socks were purchased for winter and mud boots and tall white socks for spring/fall.

Canaan School purchased rain gear, boots, and aquatic play/study gear with grant funds. Students were able to study worms, measure precipitation, try out different ways to make the biggest splashes, and observe nature in the rain.

North Elementary School in Skowhegan used its funds to start an outdoor classroom, including an earth kitchen.

Clinton Elementary School upgraded its playground by purchasing two large tunnels, six sets of binoculars, two sets of sensory springboards and a set of Let’s Get Moving activity cards.

Teachers at Fairfield Elementary School and Somerset Elementary School in Hartland have received MEEA Mini-Grant funds to support new infrastructure in their schools to support outdoor learning.

MEEA plans to maintain this program by opening another round of applications this fall for the 2022-2023 school year. Those interested in donating to this fund can email [email protected]. For more information, visit meeassociation.org.

A group of Chinese elementary school kindergarten students go for an outdoor learning experience. Photo submitted

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