Environmental program weds classroom, service work
By Lynn Moore, email@example.com
Published April 20, 2008
WEST MICHIGAN -- Protecting the environment and giving young people a sense of their own importance while enhancing their learning are the goals of a $200,000 grant project that will benefit schools in four counties.
The West Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative grant takes the idea of service learning and gives it extra meaning by combining it with classroom lessons and projects to protect the Lake Michigan watershed, said David Krebs, coordinator of the Regional Mathematics & Science Center at the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District.
The MAISD won one of four grants awarded by the Great Lakes Fishery Trust to coordinate the environmental education programs with community partners in Muskegon, North Ottawa, Oceana and Newaygo counties.
"What's really special about this is it takes teachers' individual expertise as classroom teachers and enhances it with knowledge about community collaborations and a deeper understanding of watersheds and water resources," Krebs said. "And it provides them an opportunity to take this new learning and use it with kids outside the classroom to do worthwhile community projects."
Classrooms will team up with community partners to devise projects that will both protect the watershed and enhance students' understanding of science. Krebs said the initiative has numerous community partners, chief among them Grand Valley State University's Annis Water Resources Institute and the Muskegon Conservation District.
Teams of two to three teachers from 14 middle and high schools will be chosen to receive professional development, links with the community partners, mini-grants and stipends. Teams from another 12 secondary schools will receive many of the same benefits as well as mentoring.
All educators in the region will be able to attend special summits that will provide ideas and resources for implementing their own hands-on learning experiences. There also will be five-day professional development academies for teachers during which they will be exposed to existing environmental protection projects that will help generate ideas for their classrooms.
Teachers will be encouraged -- and provided small grants -- to help students develop service projects outside of the school day.
Along the way, students will get to know and share some of the work of adults who are doing their own part to protect the watershed, Krebs said.
"Kids really do crave meaningful interactions with adults, and they'll be engaged with the real work of adults," Krebs said. "Any time you can take academic learning to the level of doing the work of adults in the community, kids view that as important work. It's not just book learning anymore."
The initiative will host three public forums about its goals; the first will be May 14 at GVSU's Lake Michigan Center. At the end of the 2008-09 school year, students will gather at a special symposium to showcase their projects.
The Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative was started by the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, and has gained momentum through the funding of such groups as the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, the Fremont Area Foundation, the Muskegon Conservation District, the MAISD and the Wege Foundation.
The Great Lakes Fishery Trust was formed to compensate for damage to fishery resources caused by the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant. The power plant south of Ludington owned by Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison creates electricity by pumping Lake Michigan water into a massive reservoir and then releasing it back into the lake.
One of the goals of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative is to have students choose the projects they will work on, said Julie Metty Bennett, assistant trust manager for the Great Lakes Fishery Trust.
"The kids actually go through a process of dreaming about how they want to learn about something that meets the teachers' benchmarks," Bennett said.
She said grant awardees could receive another $175,000 in funding in 2009 depending on their achievements, and a lesser amount in 2011. The hope is that the awardees -- known as "regional hubs" -- will find their own funds to continue their work without funding from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust.
Other regional hubs awarded the grants are Michigan State University, Eastern Michigan University and a regional math and environmental education center at Michigan Technological University.
Bennett said the goal is to establish six more regional hubs.
The MAISD and its partners spent several months designing the grant proposal using $20,000 in planning money from the trust. Krebs said he believes his group had an "edge" in winning the grant because of its involvement with a similar project funded by DTE Energy's "Freshwater Institute."
Students of teachers involved in that institute did such things as assess a local stream to see if it could support salmon, then hatched and raised salmon in their classroom to be released into the stream, Krebs said. Another classroom project involved creation of a "rain garden" that captured rainwater runoff from the school parking lot and used it to grow plants and filter the water to make it cleaner once it reached the underground aquifer.
Krebs said such projects empower students by showing them their "value" in protecting the environment -- and their community.
"One of the big things is helping students understand their place in the community," Krebs said. "You don't improve stewardship in a community by starting with adults."