Portland school grants from Bean spark outdoor learning

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PORTLAND — Under a new program, L.L. Bean has funded 18 different classroom grants in schools across the city.

The goal of the grants is to introduce students to the outdoors and to the ideals of conservation and caring for the environment.

The grants, totaling $16,000, were recently awarded through the Portland Education Foundation, according to Kate Snyder, the nonprofit’s executive director.

Snyder said the education foundation is grateful for Bean’s participation in “this brand new pilot program. It’s so great when we can enrich the learning experience” for our students and offer hands-on learning in the classroom.

In addition to the Outdoor Discovery grants from L.L. Bean, Snyder said the education foundation was also able to offer teacher grants through EnviroLogix for the first time, as well.

According to its website, EnviroLogix’s mission is to “create breakthrough diagnostic technologies,” and the grants the company funded this fall are focused on the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Overall, Snyder said, the grants provided by the Portland Education Foundation are “designed to support a wide range of innovative school and classroom-based efforts to enhance learning experiences. We’re trying to stretch our funding as far as we can to make a difference for kids.”

Superintendent Xavier Botana added that the grants give teachers “an opportunity to innovate in their classrooms. Over my career, I’ve seen modest (dollar) amounts result in extraordinary returns.”

Mike Bove, chairman of the Teacher Grants Committee at the education foundation said, “When we invest in these projects, we invest in our students, our schools and our community.”

The Portland Education Foundation website said teachers could apply for grants of up to $1,000 from L.L. Bean for proposals that encourage “academic innovation, creativity and excellence” particularly those that involved “students in conservation practices such as trail maintenance, park clean up and other hands-on” projects.

The money could be used for field trips, materials, visiting experts “or other resources that will directly impact students,” the education foundation website said.

Some of the projects funded by L.L. Bean through its Outdoor Discovery grants include one for first-graders at the Presumpscot School, called “Estuary – Where the River Meets the Sea.”

Under this program, the students “will be immersed in a science and art-based expedition about the importance of the salt marsh,” according to the education foundation. The goal is to create a calendar, a public service announcement and to hold a marsh cleanup day.

Another project funded by L.L. Bean called Bee the Change will be  aimed at freshmen and sophomores at Deering High School. This is a “real-world, take action-style project that will allow students to dive deeply into the topic of honey bees (and provide) an opportunity to learn about the vital role that bees play in the ecosystem,” the education foundation said.

With the help of art teacher Audrey Rolfe, Deering students will make posters, stickers and T-shirts extolling the benefits of bees. They will also build vertical, bee-friendly gardens from donated pallets.

“You never know when that spark of excitement might be triggered in a student. Learning becomes real when students are able to take their lessons out of the classroom and apply them directly in the community,” said Mary Bennett, president of the Portland Education Foundation board.

“L.L. Bean is strengthening our community by investing directly in our young people,” she added. “The teacher grant program is a wonderful way for business leaders to directly impact students who will become (their) future employees.”

In all, Bennett said that the teacher grant program provides “a return on investment that strengthens and uplifts the (whole) Portland community.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Last year students at Hall Elementary School in Portland participated in an outdoor learning project, called Wings of Wonder,” which this year is being funded through a new Outdoor Discovery grant from L.L. Bean. Here the students create paper mache birds.