MILO — 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 strove to support this opportunity by distributing close to $200,000 this 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 opened the first round of applications for the Mini-Grants for Outdoor Learning Program, a program aimed at redistributing funds to give teachers support as they imagined classrooms outside. After this successful fall cycle, MEEA was able to open a spring round of applications with additional funding from generous donors. This spring cycle’s recipients received up to $1,500 to support projects like teaching students bike maintenance, building school gardens, and designing interactive outdoor learning spaces.
Recipients of this spring grant include educators at Milo Elementary School and Penquis Valley Middle School. The potential impact of these spring grants is hopeful, as applications displayed new and creative ways to engage students in the outdoors and recent reporting from fall recipients illustrates how hundreds of youth across the state have been positively impacted by outdoor learning this school year.
MEEA Executive Director Olivia Griset shared, “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!”
This year, teachers stretched to fill the gap between school funding and their students’ needs. Often with limited resources, teachers are accomplishing incredible projects, engaging a variety of students, and bringing outdoor learning to new extents across the state. The impact of these projects supports thousands of youth across the state! Supporting teachers and schools in the pursuit of outdoor learning is a critical piece of MEEA’s mission as the organization strives to enhance and amplify the efforts of individuals and organizations that are building environmental awareness, fostering appreciation and understanding of the environment, and taking action towards creating equitable and resilient communities.
Dawn McLaughlin, grant recipient and physical education teacher at Milo Elementary shared the impact of the skis she bought for her grade 3-4 classes. She explained, “My students love the winter unit of snowshoeing and skiing. During physical education classes we have participated in outdoor learning for all of my 35 years as the elementary PE teacher. The students year after year show growth in so many areas as a result of our outdoor units. I am grateful that as a result of the money provided by the grant that our outdoor experience will be greatly improved.”
At Penquis Valley Middle School, Laurie Sproul was also a recipient. She shared some plans for her funding, “The funds from this grant will be used to purchase equipment and supplies for our recently made outdoor classroom and nature trail. We plan to establish native edible perennials around the classroom area, construct a pergola off the side of the classroom and four planters, purchase basic gardening equipment for the students, and purchase stain to preserve the classroom structure. “
MEEA continues to seek impactful partnerships with local communities and organizations during this changing cultural and environmental climate, as the equity-centered environmental work that MEEA creates plays a key role in building an environmentally literate Maine; where all people can engage civically and understand the relationship between their wellbeing and that of their environment.
MEEA plans to keep this program going by opening another round of applications this upcoming fall. If you or your organization are interested in donating to this fund, please contact [email protected].
Photo courtesy of Maine Environmental Education Association OUTDOOR LEARNING — The Maine Environmental Education Association has provided funding to both Milo Elementary and Penquis Valley Middle School. Monies have been used to purchase skies for grade 3-4 students and supplies for an outdoor classroom and nature trail.