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Sharing Successes from 2021 Mini-Grant Awardees

This year EENC awarded our third year of funding through our annual mini-grant program! These grants provided up to $250 to cover time, materials, and other resources needed for projects that promote excellence in environmental education. Here's how this year's awardees put their funding to work:

Alayna Schmidt, WNC Nature Center, "Racially Diverse Speaker Series for Nature-based Teen Volunteer Program"

“The Young Naturalist program was thrilled to host a series of 12 racially diverse guest speakers presenting on a number of topics supporting the program’s weekly themes and overall goal of connecting teens to their communities—both human and environmental. The series highlighted and celebrated the work of Black and Indigenous leaders and other people of color leading in science and the environment. The series challenged teens to deconstruct any unconscious assumptions they may have held around what an “environmental professional” looks like and the speakers were important representation for teen participants, especially teens who self-identify as people of color. Speakers also appreciated the opportunity to engage with the teens on important topics, like the real-time effects of climate change on Inuit teens and honoring the many different ways people choose to “do nature.” Many of these speakers were local to our region, which had the added benefit of engaging teens in topics and issues through a place-based lens. The series helped build new connections among teens and speakers and strengthened a network of people all working towards a sustainable, equitable, and nature-rich world.”

Karen Chapmen, W.D. Williams Elementary School, “Gardening is Fun!”

Gardening is fun for children, because it gives them a chance to be outdoors. They can grow flowers and vegetables to taste them. Children can observe plants and vegetables growing in the garden, learn hands on and develop a positive mindset for life. Master Gardener Chris McClung was able to explain to me how to get a garden started. Chris taught me how to plant seeds in the garden beds and I had Pollinator plants as starters to place in the ground. I had Red Okra, Blackeye Susan, Foxglove, Coreopsis, Echinacea, Milkweed, Beans and Spinach. In person learning began in early March 2021, by May after Mother’s day, I was able to have children outside planting in the garden. With some of the money awarded from EENC, I was able to buy plant starters and potting soil for different grade levels to begin growing their seeds in their classrooms. The students were able to place their plants into the ground, which was very exciting and new for some of them. I had this year, radishes, beans, pollinators flowers, lettuce, carrots, and squash. I am hoping next year, the students will be able to pull things from the garden to taste them. I am the garden coordinator for our school, our garden will always be a work in progress because I am always learning new things about gardening and learning about annuals and perennials, placement of plants and vegetables and getting the students more involved!

Jessica Metz, New Kituwah Academy, “ᎦᏓᏛ ᏗᏫᏒᏅᎢ ᎠᎹ ᎢᏥᏂᏦᎸᎯ (Bring Water to the Garden)”

“Sometimes the best projects are the ones that do not go as planned. The rain barrel project at New Kituwah Academy, ᎦᏓᏛ ᏗᏫᏒᏅᎢ ᎠᎹ ᎢᏥᏂᏦᎸᎯ, took many twists and turns, yet the result is educational, practical, and unexpectedly joyful. First, our summer camp was so packed with activities we had to rework our timeline. Next, our local carpenter reviewed our design and suggested some big changes in materials and design. Then, rather than our elementary students building it, older Cherokee Youth Garden students did the final build. Best of all, students came up with creative, unplanned uses for the rain barrel. Twists and turns and yet, our garden has water. Our students gasp and giggle every time the faucet is turned on. They charge into the rain to watch the water catching action. They are working on designing ways to measure and monitor the depth and research what will happen in the winter, and we are all excited for the spring planting season to see how the rain barrel serves its purpose as a source of water for the plants.”

Lauren Gibson, NC State University, “Providing classrooms with pesticide testing strips for an inquiry-based water quality testing activity”

“Thanks to this EENC Mini-Grant, high school students in four North Carolina environmental science classrooms got the opportunity to engage in hands-on water quality testing. The grant provided 100 pesticide tests for these public school classrooms in four different schools spanning four different counties: Camden County High School (Camden County), Pine Forest High School (Cumberland County), Northwest Guilford High School (Guilford County), and Tuscola High School (Haywood County). A total of almost 300 students in these schools participated in this water quality testing, checking the stormwater near their school for pesticide presence and helping them learn about the health of water systems within their local community. All four teachers who received pesticide tests stated that they would not have been able to acquire these materials without external assistance.”

Lauren Greene, North Carolina Botanical Garden, “From the Mountains to the Coast: Virtual Field Trip”

“The North Carolina Botanical Garden (NCBG) is working on creating a virtual field trip with plans to also present the materials as pre and post field trip materials for our third-grade program “From the Mountains to the Coast”. This fall we created a video on soil, “The Dirt on Soil”, as part of the virtual materials. We used the EENC mini-grant funding to purchase high quality audio equipment to use for filming. This equipment will be used to film additional segments for our virtual field trip and other videos for our youth programs. In addition, we used our new audio equipment for two hybrid adult programs and for creating an instructional video. The equipment will continue to be used for future hybrid adult programs and videos. Starting in the spring of 2022, our virtual field trip will provide teachers with environmental science curriculum and resources that meet the NC Essential Science Standards that is flexible in its use as a stand-alone virtual field trip or as additional pieces for our in-person experience. Additionally, use of this audio equipment increases access to NCBG collections and programming for a broad audience across NC counties for both our youth and adult programs.”

Marguerite Bishop, Nashville Elementary, “School Composter Project”

“Composters for the Nashville Elementary School Learning Garden were purchased with EENC mini-grant funds in the spring of 2021. Students were used to help assemble the units and put them in place in the garden. In the fall of 2021 students in STEM/Outdoor class are learning about composting, how soil is made, and adding to the bins. Fifth grade students are monitoring the bins to watch the process and have researched how to correct any problems. They recently determined there are not enough food scraps in the bin for correct soil formation, and have started collecting food scraps as a grade level. Students are looking forward to being able to use the compost to be able to amend the soil present in the beds. Similar lessons will be completed in subsequent years, increasing the grant’s reach and impact.”

Marilyn Jesrani, Carolina Outdoor Fun, “The Environmental Benefits of Backyard Chickens”

“Carolina Outdoor Fun used the grant money from the EENC to update and build an enclosure for a chicken coop at the Holly Springs Food Cupboard. The chicken coop serves as a model for self-efficiency and sustainable living. People who visit the coop are allowed to take eggs and the manure is composted and used in the gardens which provide fresh vegetables for the community. The chickens serve as ambassadors of the food cupboard, entertaining children, and complementing the great works that already are taking place at this facility.”

Mir Youngquist-Thurow, Agape Center for Environmental Education, ACE at Your Place

“The mini-grant funds helped to defray the cost of procuring supplies and equipment to enable hands-on opportunities while respecting social distancing and safety protocols for the COVID-19 virus. Participating teachers have reported that their students have benefited by improving their knowledge and appreciation of the natural world through hands-on experiences while observing safe health practices. The supplies provided by the mini-grant provided individual kids for each student for various lessons. Students engage in hands-on activities with their kit and instruction from ACE Education educators, after which, the kits are sanitized for re-use. While coming to the Agape Center for Environmental Education for hands-on experiential learning is the ultimate goal; the expansion of the ACE at Your Place and Guided Environmental Excursions provides EE learning opportunities that are both engaging and safe.”

Ranita Anderson, “Read, Question, Reflect, Imagine, Act – Using Language and Literacy to Promote Gardening and Beyond”

“My project centered around family and community book reading that used representative books for family experiential learning in nature. Specifically using funds from the EENC Mini Grant in conjunction with funds from the Move Mountains Grant through the Greening Youth Foundation we were able to connect approximately 15 black families to books about gardening, use content and language from the book to build knowledge and then provide materials for them to apply their learning. Additionally, we built a free little library at a local park to support continued reading and learning in a space well loved by our community and installed two garden beds for continued use in Raleigh.”

Sarah Pursel, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, “Cherokee Medicinal Plant Tour”

“The Highlands-Cashiers Plateau has an incredible diversity of plants, many of which have a rich cultural history. During the month of June 2021, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust (HCLT) shared some of the stories of traditional medicinal uses of these plants through the “Bountiful Botany: Medicinal Plants of the Plateau” event. For this event we created signs that were posted along the trail to highlight native plants found at HCLT’s Brushy Face Preserve. Much of the medicinal plant knowledge in the hike came from the Cherokee culture and traditional knowledge. The signs were in English on one side and translated into Spanish on the other, with the help of the International Friendship Center. We offered this self- guided experience for the entire month of June and also led two guided hikes for adults, and two guided hikes for children. Because the signs are waterproof and durable, this tour can be installed for multiple uses in the future.”

Shalyn Yost, Boys and Girls Club of Henderson County, “Outdoor Explorers”

“I was able to include two projects with the grant money this year. Outdoor explorers, which is an ongoing program I created with the Boys and Girls Club of Henderson Co. This program enables students to experience nature right in their own backyard while allowing them to use their imaginations to explore new things. Due to Covid19, our exploration was cut short, however I am hoping the students took what they learned and applied it when they were stuck at home. Ultimate Journey was the second project I undertook. It partners with NPS and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. This program was designed to focus on what NPS sites offer, such as history, preservation, wildlife, and plants. The students benefited from the Amazon Fire pads, which added to their curiosity to identify common birds, interesting plants and fun facts about nature. The tracks, although not used extensively as originally planned, opened the eyes of students to what wildlife lives around them. I even witnessed several students at the end of class looking for different animals by trying to ID the tracks. I feel privileged to be able to take this journey with them and couldn’t be more proud of my students for their enthusiasm and willingness to learn.”

Want to see your project on this list next year? EENC’s next round of mini-grants will be announced in winter 2022, so keep your eyes on the EENC newsletter for full details.


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