Walking down a beach in Saco on a summer day, you might expect to see beachcombers or (if it’s not too chilly) a few sunbathers. But thanks to The Ecology School, a cutting-edge experiential science curriculum supported by Poland Spring® Brand Natural Spring Water, you’ll also spot kids monitoring soil erosion and checking ponds for insects.
The Ecology School’s modus operandi is to team up a selection of Maine’s primary schools, providing teachers with a complete curriculum for teaching ecology. Children in places like Lebanon, Minot, Mechanic Falls and Poland get lessons on subjects like water quality by actually testing pH levels themselves, and they learn about the importance of recycling by meticulously composting their own food and tracking the weight of the garbage they throw away.
For students at many schools, these lessons culminate in a weeklong sleep-away camp where kids are immersed in real-world lessons, like learning how crops affect soil health and how Saco’s coastline has been affected by storms. The Poland Spring® brand supports the program by helping send students from some Maine schools to attend the Ecology School as part of its effort to connect Maine kids with their local ecosystems. “It’s important to support programs like these.” Heather Printup, Poland Spring brand community relations manager, says she thinks the program’s approach is “…A great way to learn. Kids will come up to you and sing you a song about macroinvertebrates,” explains Printup.
“The Ecology School’s mission is to teach the science of ecology and the practice of sustainability, and to do that effectively, kids need to have real-world experiences,” says The Ecology School’s executive director, Drew Dumsch. “Number one, it’s fun, but number two, by learning about ecosystems, the kids are learning about vital ways the world works: where our food comes from, where our water comes from, why clean air is important — how our economy and communities can be strong.”
Healthy eating is a fringe benefit of attendance — The Ecology School grows some of its own food; and is in the process of buying its own farm to help kids to think about where their parsley and garlic come from. Kids help with composting and setup, and while they’re eating, ecology educators perform skits wearing bacteria costumes, and sing songs that teach kids about the food chain.
Ecology School educator Leanna Bond says the program helps kids understand how their choices matter, and that’s borne out in students’ reflections. One student, Maddy Rose, said before participating in the program she hadn’t thought much about the impact of litter on water pollution. By her fourth day at The Ecology School, she’d realized “how easily impacted the environment is. Yesterday we walked down to the salt marsh and saw a ton of litter down the road. It was just kind of gross… [You] just need to throw your stuff away.”
Indeed, The Ecology School prides itself on its impact. Dumsch mentions that several communities in Maine started recycling and composting programs, urged on by kids whose schools had sent them to the program.
The Poland Spring® brand started sponsoring The Ecology School in 1999 at the program’s inception. Since 1999, The Ecology School has worked with 80,000 students from Maine — a staggering number in a state of only 1.3 million. Dumsch says, “Maybe not every kid will become a scientist, but both the parents and the kids who do our programs leave knowing more about their world and how they impact it.”
Sponsored by Poland Spring® Brand Natural Spring Water