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PPS Wins $250k to Support Outdoor Learning

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PPS Wins $250k to Support Outdoor Learning
Posted on 03/16/2022
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The Portland Public Schools has been awarded $250,000 in Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures (RREV) funding from the state to support and advance the district's outdoor learning initiatives.

The Maine Department of Education (MDOE) recently announced that RREV awards totaling $1.2 million would go to Portland and five other Maine school districts or schools to support education innovation. The five other RREV funding awardees are East Grand School in Danforth, Belfast Area High School, Telstar High School in Bethel, RSU 22 in Hampden, and RSU 25 in Bucksport.The Portland Public Schools’ award will help extend and deepen outdoor and experiential learning within the district through curriculum integration, environmental literacy practices, and building teacher capacity, according to Katie West, the district’s outdoor and experiential learning coordinator, who submitted the award application.

“I would like to express my admiration and gratitude to our Outdoor Learning Coordinator Katie West and our STEM Coordinator Brooke Teller for their leadership and vision in advancing this work and securing this award,” said Superintendent Xavier Botana. “Our robust outdoor learning program has been cited as a model nationwide during this pandemic and this funding will help make it even more successful into the future.”

Outdoor learning is important for all students and especially for the many PPS students that do not have equitable access to green spaces, West said. “School-based, meaningful outdoor experiences can help diminish health inequities, increase social-emotional learning benefits, and create new opportunities for learning in the natural environment,” she said.

The RREV award will help support a team of teachers in pre-kindergarten through grade 8 as they spend a year designing and implementing units of study that integrate outdoor and experiential components into a standards-aligned curriculum. One example is a place-based, third-grade Wabanaki Studies/Life Science unit studying the Presumpscot River Watershed.

The funding will aid in the transition of a traditional three-week summer credit recovery program for high school students into a week-long intensive course integrating outdoor and experiential learning. One possible example could be a course focusing on investigating the geology of Maine from the mountains to the coast while in the field.

The award also will support environmental literacy practices, which are the building blocks and activities that help create sustained and meaningful relationships with the natural world. They aim to help students and teachers understand the interconnectedness of all systems of life through ecological, economic, and cultural contexts. Specific practices include observation spots, field journaling, nature walks and weather recording, among others.

Year-round learning will be enhanced by this award through the creation of permanent outdoor structures at three sites during this pilot phase.

The RREV award also will enable the district to provide resources and professional development sessions that will allow teachers to grow in their skill, comfort, and creativity working with and in the outdoors.

MDOE has been awarded $16.9 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Rethink K-12 Education Models Funding. As one of 11 states to receive funding, Maine created RREV to support the work of visionary educators to develop innovative pilot programs around remote and outside-of-the-classroom learning. Learn more details about the RREV program in this announcement from MDOE.

PHOTO: PPS students learn about animal tracks.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with approximately 6,500 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 60 languages. 52 percent of the district’s students are white and 48 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.