Oceanside Middle School in Rockland, Camden Rockport Elementary School in Rockport, and Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast were part of the Maine Environmental Education Association Outdoor Learning Program that started in fall, 2020.

MEEA started the Mini-Grants for Outdoor Learning Program, aimed at redistributing funds to give teachers support as they imagined classrooms outside. The shift to outdoor learning during the pandemic offered schools the opportunity to reimagine their classrooms and the lessons they teach. MEEA supported this opportunity by distributing close to $200,000, funding 160 schools across the state, in all 16 counties. Teachers use these funds to teach students about the natural world, provide them with skills that enable independence, and ensure more time outside.

For the 2021-2022 school year, educators received up to $1,500 to support projects in the categories of Outdoor Classroom Solutions, Foul-Weather Gear, Garden/Greenhouse, Outdoor Recreation, Science Exploration, Art Outdoors, Curriculum and Professional Development, Snowshoes, and Birding.
Applicants displayed new and creative ways to engage students in the outdoors and reported on the wide range of positive impacts to their students, from increased school attendance to academic learning outcomes to improved mental and physical health.

At Oceanside Middle School the grant funds were used to purchase six picnic tables, six umbrellas, and paint. The goal was to be able to offer students seating options outside to learn. Students built the tables themselves, painted them and determined where to put them. Teacher Catherine Sally said, “One sixth grade teacher took her class outside to write poetry up in the garden. After being outside for a period (45 minutes), she said: ‘We wrote more poetry in 20 minutes than we have in a week! They were totally into being outside, being comfortable, and writing!’”

Camden Rockport Elementary School used MEEA grant funding for rain and snow gear. Pre-K students spend nearly every day outside and as a result they have learned a lot about the plants and animals around the school. Teacher Heather Bowen said, “Our rain bibs say it all! These bright yellow rain bibs that were purchased with our grant became our class uniform of sorts and we wore them rain or shine so that all kinds of play would be possible. With these rain bibs, we sat on wet stumps or the soggy ground without a pause. We played in the mud and waded in our stream, made mud soup, exploding paint, and joyfully dug in our wet sandbox and dirt filled garden beds without a single worry about getting messy or ruining our clothes.”

At Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast, grant funds were used to purchase a mobile cart, cooking supplies, and maple syruping tools. Teacher Danee Voss said, “Outdoor learning has had a profound and vast impact on our students. Most recently students have been helping to support our annual community meal. The community meal is an opportunity for students, staff, and their families to come together to share a meal made with local ingredients outdoors.”

For more information on MEEA grants, contact grants@meeassociation.org.