PORTLAND — Maine Audubon hopes to create lifelong environmental stewards while deepening students’ understanding of the world around them by providing specialized grants to teachers across the city.

Black-throated blue earblers are one of the many Maine birds students at Portland’s East End Community School will learn about this coming school year under a grant from Maine Audubon. Courtesy / Maine Audubon

For the third year, Maine Audubon has partnered with the Portland Public Schools to provide funding for a range of programs that introduce students to native plants and animals and the unique ecosystems that exist in this part of the state.

In all, Audubon, which is headquartered in Falmouth, has awarded 15 grants for the 2019-2020 school year that total just under $13,000.

Grants will fund programs like BugMania at King Middle School, a study of Maine birds at East End Community School and making improvements to the outdoor atrium and pond area at Riverton Elementary School.

Even Portland Adult Education received a grant to offer students a course on the flora and fauna of Maine.

The grants are supported by the Foundation for Portland Public Schools, which works with community organizations such as Maine Audubon to enrich learning opportunities for students that might not be available otherwise.

With these grants, “we hope (teachers) will incorporate the many resources available for studying wildlife habitat,” said Eric Topper, director of education at Maine Audubon.

“We want to enable fieldwork, technical expertise and training that can be cost-prohibitive to schools without outside funding like these grants,” he said.

“Maine Audubon is a true partner to (the district),” Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said. “I’m grateful for their generosity and their positive impacts on students.”

“Maine Audubon’s work with Portland Public Schools has been critical for engaging many thousands of people in wildlife habitat conservation throughout Portland and beyond,” Topper said, which is one reason it makes so much sense for the organization to fund the teacher grants.

“There is tremendous value for organizations like Maine Audubon in working with Maine’s largest school district in terms of outreach, diversity, equity, and impact,” he said.

“The range and creativity of these grants is always astounding,” Tupper added. “We have teachers looking to implement existing curriculum, looking … to improve habitat, and looking to incorporate nature into teaching English language skills.”

“We want all Maine students to study the wildlife and habitats around them,” Tupper said, with the hope that “this will lead to them taking direct conservation actions.”

He said a joint committee of Maine Audubon and Foundation for Portland Public Schools staff reviews the grant applications to decide which requests to fund.

In some cases, Topper said, teachers already have an idea in mind, but others reach out to Maine Audubon to help them develop projects and the budget necessary to support them.

He said one of the most popular programs is called “Secrets of the Forest,” which is focused on forest ecology.

“Students gain a sense of place by engaging with the outdoor resources that Maine Audubon” offers, said Kate Snyder, executive director of the Foundation for Portland Public Schools

“Cultivating an understanding of the local environment and appreciation for the ecosystems that surround Portland is (also) critical to helping students develop,” she said.

And maybe more importantly, Snyder said “final reports, testimonials and photos, all tell us that the experiences and opportunities (provided through Maine Audubon) are positive” for students.

“By engaging (Portland) students, organizations like Maine Audubon can further their mission by engaging diverse student bodies in their programming,” she said.

And, for the School Department, grants from Maine Audubon and other similar organizations, allow it to enhance student experience and learning through opportunities that may not otherwise exist, Snyder said.

Topper agreed, saying, “by embracing and engaging (with Maine Audubon) the Portland Schools can draw on additional funding, expertise, and other support to enable richer student experiences.”


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