MOUNT DESERT — The shift to outdoor learning during the pandemic has offered schools the opportunity to reimagine their classrooms and the lessons they teach. The Maine Environmental Education Association (MEEA) supported this by distributing close to $200,000 in the 2021-2022 school year, funding 160 schools across the state, in all 16 counties. Teachers are using these funds to teach students about the natural world, provide them with skills that enable their independence and ensure more time outside.
In the fall of 2020, MEEA started the Mini-Grants for Outdoor Learning Program, a program aimed at redistributing funds to give teachers support as they imagined classrooms outside. As enthusiasm for community based environmental learning has increased over the past two years, MEEA has continued to support teachers with these grants.
Educators received up to $1,500 to support projects in the categories of outdoor classroom solutions, foul-weather gear, garden/greenhouse, outdoor recreation, science exploration, art outdoors, curriculum and professional development, snowshoes and birding.
Applicants displayed new and creative ways to engage students in the outdoors and reported on the wide range of positive impacts to their students, from increased school attendance to academic learning outcomes to improved mental and physical health.
“At MEEA we are so grateful for the amazing educators who have worked so hard this year to get their students outside learning. Research shows that outdoor learning has hugely positive mental and physical health benefits and also academic benefits for youth. We also know that not all youth have access to the outdoors, which is an environmental justice issue. These teachers and projects happening in public schools across the state are helping to ensure that our youth have positive experiences gaining a deeper connection to nature in their local community. We are grateful to all the individuals who donated to make this project possible and to all the AMAZING teachers for their incredible work!” MEEA Executive Director Olivia Griset said.
Patricia Ann Kelley, a teacher at Mount Desert Elementary in Northeast Harbor, used the MEEA grant funds to buy seeds, plant pots, potting soil, new hoses, organic fertilizers, tools, posts/stakes, organic bug deterrent, twines, fencing and general supplies.
The school’s Growing Gardens, Growing Minds program is an outdoor classroom with a garden where the students plant seeds, dig in the ground, grow vegetables organically and learn about garden maintenance.
Another teacher at Mount Desert Elementary, Shannon Westphal, used funds to create an outdoor maker space where K-6 students practiced their woodworking skills on a variety of projects.
“This grant gave students the opportunity to work outside and learn some new wood working skills. Students had time to finish a guided lesson and then had time to work on their own with the same techniques and materials. This space and these materials have been a breath of fresh air,” Westphal said.
MEEA plans to keep this program going by opening another round of applications this fall for the 2022-2023 school year.
To donate to this fund, contact [email protected].