LEEF Mini Grants Awarded in support of innovative environmental education statewide

Thursday, September 07, 2023 11:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Thanks to LEEF member contributions, we were able to award $2,000 in Mini Grants in 2023.  The LEEF Board of Directors has selected 4 applicants from this year's LEEF Mini Grant program to receive $500 of funding each.  These innovative programs are located in communities with a majority of Black, Indigenous and people of color residents and make a priority to include these residents in their programs.  They also demonstrated innovation in environmental education, and some included a focus on climate change or climate resilience. 

Each organization will present a session about their program at either the March 2024 LEEF Conference or in an online webinar to share their lessons learned with others.  Their programs will occur in 2023-24 and finish by August 30, 2024. 

Below is a brief description of each LEEF member organization selected for funding:

Alachua Conservation Trust - From the Classroom to the Creek: The Creekside Environmental Education for Kids Program

The CrEEK Program serves approximately 1,000 4th grade students, predominantly from Title I schools in Alachua and Putnam counties in Florida. On average, student participants are approximately 65% African American, 20% Caucasian, and 15% Hispanic, and disproportionately from low-income families. The CrEEK program provides these students with access to fun and engaging environmental education, while actively working against educational barriers and fostering a diverse future of nature lovers and environmental leaders. 

The CrEEK program busses 60 4th grade students to an Alachua Conservation Trust property each week during the school year and provides 5 contact hours per student.  The program includes 3 outdoor stations, lunch and follow up discussion in the classroom the next day.  The program goals are to develop students' curiosity for nature, meet educational standards, and reinforce student empowerment.  To meet these goals, CrEEK guides students in hands-on activities such as dipnetting in the creek and sweep netting in the meadows to learn about life cycles, observing decomposition of plants and logs to learn about the carbon cycle, and walking on nature trails to reinforce observational thinking and species identification.  The CrEEK program serves each student with 5 contact hours.

LEEF funding will provide supplies necessary to expand the program to other Conservation Trust areas and offer a new CrEEK Family Days program to families to participate in engaging outdoor learning.

Reef Environmental Education FoundationInspiring Hope for the Ocean's Changing Climate 

REEF will lead the Inspiring Hope for the Ocean's Changing Climate lesson for High School students in class or through after school clubs in the Florida Keys. Thirty percent of the households in the Florida Keys are below the poverty level and defined by the United Way as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed (ALICE). ALICE residents earn just above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what it costs to make ends meet. Students of these households may have barriers that will likely prevent them from participating in activities and extracurricular opportunities. Though surrounded by water, access to the ocean is still limited to those who own boats. Demographics of Monroe County (Florida Keys) include residents from Cuba, Haiti, and Columbia.

The goals of the program will be:

  • To provide a context for climate change and its impacts by focusing on local issues and observed phenomena by residents 
  • To strengthen a student’s connection to their home and community by nurturing positive relationships with the environment
  • To empower students to take action steps that increase community and student dialogue to inspire hope and climate solutions

This program combines the qualitative information gathered through community conversations and REEF's quantitative data on fish population declines in the Florida Keys - an essential part of life to the population of 2.4 million residents and 5 million visitors in the Keys. Students will collect interviews about the changing climate with family, friends, and community members asking them about changes they have seen in their lifetime. Anticipated stories may include: hurricanes, sea level rise, less fish, coral bleaching, and warming temperatures. As a small group activity, students will use the qualitative data from the interviews to piece together actions, events, and impacts of climate change and how it affects fish populations, diversity, and abundance of the Keys. This flowchart activity shows students the interconnectedness of humans and nature while gaining a thorough understanding of their natural surroundings. Ocean Literacy and Climate Literacy Principles will be incorporated to provide scientific content for climate and ocean systems. As a concluding event, students will host opportunities for various groups to write their “What can I do” post-it notes creating dialogue on climate solutions. Meeting audiences where they are, action steps are encouraged to be tailored to what each demographic can practically accomplish. These steps may include sharing their reflections and findings on social media. This lesson turns students into active citizens by understanding where they live, garnering pride, and caring for their backyard and community.

Sanibel Sea School - A Week in the Field

A Week in the Field will mentor high schoolers in environmental research in Southwest Florida. Participants will learn about water quality issues, resource management, coastal wildlife, and conservation. They will conduct authentic scientific research on Sanibel Island, Pine Island Sound, and the Gulf of Mexico. They will be mentored in research methods and laboratory practices by SCCF biologists. Participants will gain valuable skills in collecting, interpreting, and presenting data to the community.

LEEF funding will allow underrepresented groups to participate in the Week in the Field summer camp program on Sanibel Island at no cost to campers via an application system.  Sanibel Sea School will organize transportation from Cape Coral and Fort Myers to make the camp more accessible. There is a $9 toll to the island, and many families can’t take the time to go out of their daily commute to drive their children over.

The Week in the Field camp's primary goal is to foster and encourage the interests of Lee County high school students in the research fields, especially interest in STEM amongst underrepresented groups.   

Place-Based Education – The camp focuses on community-based problems. The camp will be organized around real-world problems and how scientists work to solve them on Sanibel, in order to connect students to their community.

Diversity & Inclusion - Sanibel Sea School considers all children to be valuable members of learning experiences with differing voices, strengths, abilities, and contributions. Their inclusive programs embrace and expand children's sociocultural repertoires while teaching them how to deal with controversy and conflict creatively and constructively.

Mentorship – Students work alongside biologists with years of expertise and use research-grade equipment. They analyze samples in a laboratory setting while being mentored in laboratory practices.

Oxbow Eco-Center - St. Lucie Watersheds and Wildlife

There is a distinct disparity between access to nature and nature programming between more affluent and underserved schools. As such, Oxbow has selected a local school whose students have been financially unable to visit the Oxbow Eco-Center for many years to be the beneficiary of this program: Chester A. Moore Elementary School in Fort Pierce. With the grant funding, the school will receive both transportation to the Oxbow Eco-Center and nature programming at no cost. Principal of Chester A. Moore Elementary, Ms. Thelma Jackson, is enthusiastic and inspired by the possibility of this opportunity. The St. Lucie Watersheds and Wildlife program will:

  • Provide transportation for students and teachers from the grade(s) selected by the principal to participate to the Oxbow Eco-Center and Preserve for environmental science programming at no cost to them
  • Provide meaningful, immersive nature and watershed experiences for students while at the Oxbow Eco-Center and Preserve at no cost to them
  • Provide classroom teachers supplies and resources to independently implement outdoor learning at their school via Oxbow's Watersheds and Wildlife resource bin.

Watersheds & Wildlife is a hands-on program that highlights watershed concepts, basic needs of living things, and local keystone species such as the alligator and gopher tortoise. Students will interact with Oxbow's virtual watershed sandbox, meet Oxbow’s live animal ambassadors, incorporate physical movement into their learning, and actively explore the watershed on the Preserve during a watershed stroll.

These activities will provide students the opportunity to be immersed in nature, which in turn develops appreciation for the environment, the desire to care for it and fosters stewardship. In addition, teachers will be provided supplies and resources to implement their own watershed lessons at their school site and/or classrooms via Oxbow's Watersheds & Wildlife resource bin. The resource bin was successfully piloted with teachers in the 22-23 school year and provides the means to independently lead additional environmental science lessons effectively and efficiently at their schools.

For over 20 years, the Oxbow Eco-Center has been recognized as a respected environmental education and nature center in Port St. Lucie. Oxbow staff hosted over 3,000 students in high-quality, hands-on environmental education programs during the 2022-2023 school year.

Congratulations to these winners of LEEF's 2023 Mini-Grant program; we are honored to support your efforts and look forward to learning from you in the coming year.

If you have any questions about the Mini Grant program or would like to contribute to funding this program in 2024, please contact LEEF's Operations and Outreach Manager at trina at leef-florida.org.

Founded in 1983, the League of Environmental Educators in Florida is the professional association for individuals and organizations dedicated to the cause of environmental education in Florida. We are the state affiliate for North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), an organization that brings together those interested in the study and enjoyment of our natural world and one that has promoted excellence in environmental education throughout North America and the world for over four decades.  

The League of Environmental Educators in Florida is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

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