K-12 environmental education projects supported

The Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) has awarded six environmental education grants – totaling $2,700.  The funding will support programs that will connect 200 adults with 1000 youths to deepen their knowledge, appreciation, and stewardship of the region. UPEC’s support is part of a diverse environmental education partnership that includes community organizations, foundations, state and federal resource management agencies, universities, K-12 school districts, intermediate school districts, and other nonprofit environmental advocacy groups.

“This grant enables MooseWood Nature Center to begin a new collaborative partnership with several agencies to create a unique Lake Superior environmental curriculum and to offer it to elementary school kids this spring,” MooseWood Nature Center Director Andrew Bek commented. Bek said that in this era of tight funding, partnerships that piece together resources have become essential for providing environmental education experiences. Bek’s program will take students on boats to study aquatic science in Marquette Harbor.

Other grant recipients include Michigan Tech’s Center for Science and Environmental Outreach, the MSU Extension Service in Alger County, the Clear Lake Education Center near Escanaba, Emerald Elementary School in Manistique, and the Western UP Center for Science, Math and Environmental Education (affiliated with the Copper County ISD).

These projects include an environmental symposium for high school students from the Lake Superior basin, education and citizenship development through exploration of metallic sulfide mining, learning about migratory birds and geological features, helping youth develop a sense of place and appreciation for nature through art and photography, and using snowshoes to conduct winter nature study activities.

While youth from the UP will be primary beneficiaries of the program, youth from lower Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario will also participate, increasing interaction and sharing. All programs will have a strong hands-on component. Although science figures prominently in many of the projects, other experiences also will play key roles in fostering awareness, appreciation and stewardship.

“Often, programs designed to get youth outdoors and connected with nature frequently draw on either game-type activities or science investigations,” Clear Lake Education Mimi Klotz explained. “While it is good to engage bodies and minds in these ways, by adding an artistic/creative element, we can draw on the hearts, spirits, and imaginations of our youth, amplify the connections created, and help develop an empathy and passion for nature. Experiencing the UP’s natural resources, through environmental education, outdoor recreation, and artistic creation at Clear Lake Education Center, will give our youth much to draw from.”

UPEC board member Connie Sherry chaired a committee that review proposals and made funding recommendations to the full UPEC board at its January meeting. Other committee members included UPEC board members Nancy Warren and Doug Welker, and Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) President Linda Rulison (a retired K-12 educator).

Becoming involved in the UPEC Education Grant Committee has been a heartening experience, Sherry said. “I believe that educating children is the responsibility of the whole community and that awarding these grants to projects all over the Upper Peninsula has been a win-win situation. We were able to award most grant requests this year in full. The pictures and feedback that we get from these grant recipients make us determined to continue to find ways to finance these grants. As a teacher told me years ago, ‘The real classroom in outside – get into it!’”

Sherry said some grants allowed new programs to begin such as the aquatic science activity in Marquette, while other grants will help programs to grow and become better established.

“At the CCISD in Hancock, teachers have been partnering with parents, the local Audubon Association and geology students from MTU to take their children to participate in the spring raptor migration at Brockway Mountain to learn to identify and count the birds,” Sherry said. “Some were able to participate last year in this unique event, but even more teachers wanted their classes to participate this year, so UPEC funding will help this happen.”

Sherry also said that UPEC funding helped youth participate in activities like snowshoeing that may seem like they are readily available in the region but aren’t always available to youth with limited family resources.

“On an application from Manistique one teacher wrote that most of the elementary students that he wanted to take outdoors for a hands-on science lesson had never been on snowshoes before,” Sherry explained. “We thought that Yooper children should certainly have an opportunity to learn to snowshoe as well as have the science lessons.”

“Emerald Elementary fourth and fifth grade students are so fortunate to have the support of the UPEC,” Manistique physical education teacher Chris Marana said. “Snowshoeing is such a great winter activity and, thanks to the UPEC, our students were able to experience our local environmental lab to learn about winter animal tracking while engaging in a life-long winter activity. These type of “hands-on” educational activities help remind students of the amazing resources available in the Upper Peninsula.”

In addition to educating and advocating about a wide range of regional environmental issues, UPEC, as the region’s oldest environmental organization, organizes an annual celebration of the region’s natural heritage. This year’s Celebrate the UP event will occur March 8 and 9 in Marquette at the Three Corners (Ridge and Front Streets). The event will include recognition of environmental education programs past and present. To learn more about the event as well as how to become involved in supporting regional environmental education and advocacy go to www.upenvironment.org.

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