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PPS Educators Win Outdoor Learning Grants

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PPS Educators Win Outdoor Learning Grants
Posted on 04/15/2021
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Portland Public Schools educators are among those statewide this spring receiving Maine Environmental Education Association (MEEA) mini-grants to support outdoor learning. The grant program allows educators to apply for up to $1,500 to fund their outdoor learning projects.

Schools receiving grants in the MEEA’s 2021 spring cycle include East End Community School, Lincoln Middle School, Lyseth Elementary School and Gerald E. Talbot Community School. PPS Outdoor Learning Coordinator Brooke Teller also won a grant to enhance the outdoor learning experience district-wide. The grant recipients this round received between approximately $600 to $1,500 to support their projects. The grants will be used in a variety of ways, including creating more comfortable outdoor seating options, purchasing nets and thermometers to help students study vernal ponds, funding an outdoor learning library, and helping students have a positive outdoor learning experience “waking up” a garden this spring.

The mission of the MEEA is to enhance and amplify the efforts of individuals and organizations in building environmental awareness, appreciation, understanding, and action in Maine. The MEEA is very pleased to support outdoor learning in Maine public schools.

Here’s a list of educators receiving PPP mini-grants this spring:

Cheri Drago, special education teacher, along with Rob Lindsay, science teacher, Lincoln Middle School, $560.35
Project Description: This grant will allow us to buy nets and thermometers to extend our study of local ponds, vernal pools, and aquatic habitats. For example, students can make hypotheses and compare water temperatures and quality in various pond and pool locations with the areas of greatest density of frog eggs, tadpoles, and algae.  Cheri will be combining this work with an Audubon grant she got last year to further explore pond life.  We are fortunate to have two protected natural areas within walking distance of the school. Classes currently use these areas in a variety of ways, from outdoor classrooms to sites for experiential learning. This funding would allow students to conduct fieldwork in those areas, further building a sense of place.

Nicole Grace, educational technician, East End Community School, $1,500 grant
Project DescriptionThe EECS garden program is particularly special because it supports a living classroom during the school year, bringing science, math, reading, and writing to life for students while connecting them to trying new, fresh foods. Collaborations between our garden educator and specialist teachers, such as music, library and art teachers, as well as traditional classroom teachers, have allowed for some wonderful exchanges of ideas and created a stronger school community. To that end, the MEEA grant award will be used to revitalize a back raised garden bed affectionately called “The Little's Garden.” New loam and compost will be purchased and delivered, fractured boards will be replaced and there will be an installation of an irrigation system, as well as the purchase of basic tools students and teachers need. All that will help ensure that a meaningful and successful outdoor learning experience will be readily available.

Allison Richards, teacher, Gerald E. Talbot Community School, $1,500.00
Project Description: The Gerald E. Talbot Community School has been lucky enough to pilot a garden special this year, which allowed students from PreK-5 to have access to garden-based learning and curriculum in our beautiful school garden that is part of a community garden space within our school grounds. This funding will be used immediately as our set date for our “Wake Up the Garden Week" is at the end of April. Our intention for that week is to provide every student with a positive outdoor experience in the spring while also having students take ownership and share responsibility for our communal learning spaces. We hope that when students and staff share a meaningful outdoor experience together, they will be more likely to pursue learning in our outdoor spaces in the spring. If this event goes well, we hope to make it a yearly tradition that allows our whole school community to come together (when COVID is behind us) in our outdoor spaces to collaboratively learn from, explore, play in, and care for our shared space and celebrate outdoor learning together! These funds will be hugely helpful in incorporating outdoor learning in our school community!

Brooke Teller, PPS Outdoor Learning Coordinator, $1,500 
Project Description: After a successful fall getting students and teachers outdoors, PPS is looking at ways to enhance the outdoor experience and to further solidify the efforts we have made. One survey request from teachers was around better/more comfortable seating. We would use $1,400 of this grant to purchase brackets and 2x4s to create more comfortable and – in the future – more collaborative, outdoor seating options. The rest of the funding would support a lending library that will help teachers to build their capacity on their own time versus only when professional development is available.

Katie West, Art Teacher, Lyseth Elementary School, $1,253
Project Description: The grant will help fund an outdoor learning library with the most current books and research to help show the importance of outdoor learning and offer examples of implementing a standards-based curriculum in the natural world.  The library will increase understanding of the value of place-based education and how it intersects with equity issues and SEL (social emotional learning). I will purchase and create several outdoor learning kits to help teachers take the first steps to bring their current curriculum into the outdoor classroom when appropriate.  To help support the outdoor learning program already underway, we will purchase a cart to help transport outdoor learning supplies to the farthest outdoor classrooms and facilitate the garden curriculum already established.  Lastly, we will use the remaining amount to help fund an outdoor art project that will celebrate an incredible year of our students, in grades K-5, learning outside in all weather.

PHOTO: A Lincoln Middle School student with turtles at a local pond.