WISCASSET — Four well-respected Maine non-profits have combined forces to combat the economic challenges facing public schools in Maine and limited access public school students have to environmental education.
Chewonki Outdoor Classroom for Schools (Wiscasset), Ferry Beach Ecology School (Saco), UMaine 4-H Camp and Learning Center at Bryant Pond, and UMaine 4-H Camp and Learning Center at Tanglewood (Lincolnville) have formed a partnership to help provide residential environmental education to Maine public school students: Environmental Living and Learning for Maine Students: The ELLMS Project.
The project has caught the attention of leaders in the field of environmental education and major funders, receiving $290,000 in grants to date. The ELLMS Project will encourage students to develop a lifelong commitment to environmental sustainability and stewardship, outdoor exercise and recreation, good nutrition, community-building, and civic engagement through positive, nature-based activities, lessons, and challenges.
The project will also spur students’ understanding of the connections between natural resources and the economy so that they will be better prepared to participate in the “green economy.”
Ryder Scott, ELLMS Project spokesperson and program director at Bryant Pond, says he is thrilled to be a part of this collaborative effort. “Our four organizations are competitors, but we share the same mission of providing residential environmental education to Maine students, getting them outside and active. All four of our programs provide academic programs that complement schools’ science curricula, and offer students a chance for a ‘camp’ experience — eating with their classmates; sleeping in simple dorms, cabins or tents; being a part of a small community and engaging in outdoor activity and learning,” Scott said in a press release.
Recognizing that school budget cuts and increased transportation costs have prompted many schools to eliminate off-campus enrichment, the ELLMS partners have created a financial aid fund for public schools that need support to give their students residential environmental education. Through the ELLMS fund, public elementary and middle schools in Maine can apply for grants to help send their students to any of the four ELLMS organizations. Schools will apply to the fund online, selecting the program that best fits their curriculum and needs. The ELLMS Project Steering Committee is currently soliciting businesses and foundations for funding for this initiative and with great success.
Five foundations have already contributed for the 2011-2012 school year. The Elmina B. Sewall Foundation granted the ELLMS Project $125,000. Megan Shore of the Sewall Foundation says, “Providing opportunities for Maine’s school children to learn about and connect with the environment is an essential part of strengthening Maine’s communities, economy, and health. The collaborative nature and strong track record of the organizations involved in this program, as well as the potential to reach so many children throughout the state, were very compelling.”
The other foundations who are supporting the ELLMS Project to date are the Bangor Savings Bank Foundation ($5,000), the Sam L. Cohen Foundation ($20,000), the Quimby Family Foundation ($40,000), and Jane’s Trust ($100,000). Cohen Foundation Executive Director Nancy Brain says that her foundation was impressed with the collaborative spirit of the ELLMS Project. “It’s rare that we see competing organizations come together like this for a common goal. The combination of what these non-profits offer collectively is going to make a huge impact on Maine students. We’d love to see more Maine organizations follow this model.”
Ryder Scott says there is still a long way to go to make ELLMS financially sustainable. “We’re working on ways to assure that all Maine students, regardless of family income, have access to residential environmental education. ELLMS will allow us to share best practices and administrative resources; reach a much greater number of public school students, particularly underserved students; and work together to teach a rising generation how to be responsible stewards of their environment, their own health, their communities, and their state.”
Anyone interested in financially supporting the ELLMS Project, is urged to contact Lucy Hull at 207-882-7323 ext. 127 or firstname.lastname@example.org.