HARRISBURG, Pa. — Harrisburg area teachers and students will engage in hands-on learning around local environmental issues and solutions, and the unique nature of their communities thanks to a grant from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), acquired by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).
The partnership between NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education & Training (B-WET) Program and CBF will connect several school districts within the Capital Area Intermediate Unit (CAIU) to non-formal educators and community organizations doing environmental work.
The CAIU provides curriculum, staff development, and other services to 24 member school districts in Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry, and northern York counties in south central Pennsylvania.
The NOAA grant will train teachers and bring together local entities like libraries, Trout Unlimited chapters, conservation districts, and others to provide Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) that are difficult for school districts to implement on their own.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Shippensburg University have joined CBF and the CAIU to support participating teachers and authentic field investigations and student led action projects.
The $282,000 B-WET grant is for three years, and environmental science program decisions will be made by local educators.
“The Capital Area Intermediate Unit has been working with all of their school systems and knows who has good environmental science programs that could be great, or what school systems are just beginning their journey,” said Karen Mullin, Director of CBF’s Professional Learning Team. “They are able to distribute resources and our information to the right school system.”
The Shippensburg Area School District, Middletown School District, and the Reach Cyber Charter School have expressed interest in participating and CBF expects to connect with others.
“We’re eager to support projects like the one that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is bringing to the Capital Area Intermediate Unit,” said Sean Corson, Director of NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. “It will increase student understanding and stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay and local watersheds. This project will embed these unique learning experiences into the curriculum, giving all students in the district access to experiential learning,”
Action teams of teachers and community members will be organized within three regions of the CAIU in the spring, to build and strengthen effective MWEEs into long-term and systemic student-led environmental action.
The teams will engage participating teachers in field-based instruction and curriculum writing, and train preservice teachers that will support MWEEs.
MWEEs personalize learning, with students doing the science, and understanding and doing the investigating. Students learn from local neighborhood groups and connections, as well as teachers.
“Let’s say a school decides they want to come up with a solution to address stormwater management on their school grounds. Having these education action teams helps create an audience for those students to really feel as if their voice can be heard,” Mullin said. “That gives the students the opportunity of feeling the power of learning and the power of their own voice within that learning.”
Under the NOAA grant, MWEEs would be developed in the three school systems during the 2023-24 school year.
MWEEs supported by this NOAA grant fit right in with Pennsylvania’s new Science, Technology and Engineering, Environmental Literacy and Sustainability (STEELS) education standards, which has a focus on environmental science.
“With these new standards, teachers across the Commonwealth who have been engaging students in this style of place-based and civic learning are now not only creating an exciting opportunity for scientific inquiry they also fulfilling state requirements,” said Jen Peglow, CBF’s Professional Learning Coordinator.
–B.J. Small, Chesapeake Bay Foundation