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Nature Based Education Consortium

info@nbeconsortium.com

Educators, Students, and Supporters Celebrate Outdoor & Environmental Learning at Release of New Census Report

The public launch event at the Hall of Flags drew over 100 students, teachers, and legislators

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Educators, students, legislators, and outdoor and environmental education organizations gathered at the State Capitol on February 27 to celebrate advancements in environmental and outdoor education across the state. 

February 28, 2024

 

Yesterday, Maine environmental education organizations celebrated advancements in outdoor learning in Maine with around 100 attendees including students, teachers, and legislators at the Statehouse Hall of Flags. The celebration also announced the release of the 2022 Census of Community-Based Outdoor and Environmental Learning report, a collaborative data project hosted by the Teach ME Outside initiative.

“The census is the most powerful tool we have for informing policy, decision making, and funding in our [outdoor education] work,” said Alex Brasili of the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA) during her speech. “We are one of the first states in the country to launch an initiative like this.” Teach ME Outside builds on the collaborative work of many organizations and individuals over the past decade and is led today by MMSA, Maine Environmental Education Association (MEEA), and Nature Based Education Consortium (NBEC). 

The 2022 census captured data from over 900 individuals from all 16 counties in Maine. This follow up study to the 2019 census tracks trends in the field, offers data to inform program design, and measures equitable access to environmental education and outdoor learning in Maine. 

Brasili also highlighted partnerships between schools and community-based organizations that are featured in the 2022 census report. The Wells Reserve partners with Portland High School to host a Summer Nature & Science week to support New Mainer women learning about nature and building their English language skills. Another case study featured the annual Harvest Fest at Stratton School in Franklin County that celebrates school gardens with the support of Maine Agriculture in the Classroom and Greater Franklin Food Council.

A key finding of the census was that Maine educators identified Wabanaki Studies as their most pressing professional development need. Brianne Lolar, a citizen of the Panawahpskek nation and the Department of Education’s first Wabanaki Studies Specialist, shared how vital expanded access to Wabanaki studies is. 

“As the first scientists of this land, Wabanaki educators have much to offer. Wabanaki traditional ways teach us to honor and strengthen our relationships with the environment, as well as the people around us.” Lolar says that the Department “honors traditional knowledge, builds trust in lasting relationships, [and] gives hope for the future.” This spring, Lolar is partnering with MEEA to host four in-person Wabanaki Studies professional development workshops for in-school educators.

The celebration also highlighted expanded funding and jobs in outdoor learning, though the new census report identified funding is still a barrier for teachers. Sarah Timm, who spoke at the celebration, was hired as Oxford Hill’s Outdoor Learning Coach thanks to a Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures (RREV) grant from the Department of Education.

“Now I work outside with students every day, as well as supporting teachers and administrators in the professional development needed for outdoor learning,” said Timm. “In short, I have my dream job.”

MEEA’s Mini-Grants for Outdoor Learning Program has given over $600,000 to teachers, reaching over 100,000 kids in nearly 60% of Maine public schools. Meroby Elementary School received a mini-grant in 2021. “It only takes one deer print in the snow to turn an entire class into deductive thinkers,” said 4th grade teacher Maggie Corlett of Meroby Elementary. “And it only takes one rock by a brook for a child struggling with emotion regulation, lying on it, to reap the calming benefits of moving water.  Outdoor education is something that takes the simple things of our natural world and presents magnificent learning opportunities.” 

Audrey Hufnagel, a high school senior at Lincoln Academy, spoke about her involvement in helping pass the Climate Education Bill, LD 1902 that was signed into law in 2022, through a multi-generational campaign of students, teachers, and advocates. This pilot program provides $2 million in funding for professional development and community partnerships for three years. “My generation has to deal with the impacts of climate change and our lives both currently and in the future,” said Hufnagel during her speech. “Climate education can also help prepare us for future jobs in the growing clean energy sector and other careers as we work toward a more sustainable future.”

 

“I'm really excited that the professional development grant program that Audrey actually mentioned in her speech is off the ground,” said Teddy Lyman, Climate Education Specialist for the Maine Department of Education. “And we have launched three phases, the first of which will have programs this spring.”

“So many kids, now more than ever before, are just latched to screens all day long not engaging in authentic, real things,” said Commissioner Pender Makin. “In addition to the academic growth and well being of students, we are paying attention to their health, safety, and their social, emotional, and behavioral health. And all of those things are augmented by being engaged in outdoor education.” 

About Teach ME Outside

The goal of Teach ME Outside is to support and work in partnership with Maine communities to ensure that all Maine youth have access to powerful, hands-on environmental learning opportunities. Building on the results of the 2019 and 2022 Census of Community-Based Outdoor and Environmental Learning, this initiative focuses on reducing barriers and sharing creative community-designed solutions to increase schools and organizations’ ability to implement community-based environmental learning. Teach ME Outside builds on the collaborative work of many different organizations and individuals over the past decade and is led today by a partnership between the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, Maine Environmental Education Association, and Nature Based Education Consortium.

Media Contacts

 

Maine Environmental Education Association

emory@meeassociation.org

(207) 619-1609

PO BOX 413, Brunswick, ME 04011

https://www.meeassociation.org/

 

Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance

cnorian@mmsa.org

(207) 626-3230 Ext. 104

343 Water Street, Augusta, Maine 04330

https://mmsa.org/ 

 

Nature Based Education Consortium

info@nbeconsortium.com

https://www.nbeconsortium.com/ 

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