Needham Public Schools, with the support of community partners including Green Needham, received an EPA Eco-Explorers grant for 2010 -2012 to help teachers incorporate outdoor environmental education practices and to encourage Needham students to become environmental stewards.

In June, after a successful and exciting first year, the regional EPA office recommended the program for recognition in President Obama’s Great American Outdoor Initiative. The vision for the Eco-Explorers grant is students who are comfortable and at-home in the out-of-doors, aware and knowledgeable about their environment, skilled at observation and inquiry, and active as environmental citizens. The overarching goal is for Needham students to leave elementary school with enduring understanding about sustainability, with practice in what it means to be stewards of our environmental resources.

During Year One of the grant an Eco-Explorers Leadership Team was formed, comprised of 12 classroom teachers representing grades K-5, plus four Needham Science Center staff, the grant coordinator and two partner group members. In nine 3-hour sessions throughout Year One, intensive professional development focused on the basics of environmental education and the issue of sustainability. Eco-Explorers Leadership Team members met and learned from the stewards of each of the Needham community outdoor spaces involved in the project. At each location participants were able to “do” inquiry as adult learners, and debrief the experience as researchers. The specific content covered was explicitly connected to the “big ideas” of science and systems thinking. In follow-up meetings, team members discussed environmental content connections to that particular site and researched what lessons, curriculums and activities already exist.

Year Two kicks off October 20, 2011 with a special event featuring noted environmental author David Sobel. The public is invited to attend Sobel’s presentation from 7pm to 9 pm on “Why 21st Century Children Need Nature“, in the Newman School auditorium.

In Year Two, the emphasis of the grant will be on integrating environmentally focused practices within Needham classrooms across the K-5 curriculum. Needham students will be invited to become Eco-Rangers tackling local sustainability projects. The Eco-Explorers Team is actively seeking volunteers to help mentor our Eco-Rangers. For more information, e-mail Mary Rizzuto, Science Center Director and Eco-Explorers Team Leader.

EPA Eco-Explorers Grant update – Year 1

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