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Teachers Go Green to Get Green

NEA Foundation Grows its Green Grants Program for Environmentally-Friendly Curricula

By Cindy Long

After learning about a fragile ecosystem in his community, Grant, a seventh-grader at Teeland Middle School in Wasilla, Alaska, decided to change his ways.

“I feel differently about the riparian zone now,” he said. “So I probably won’t ride four wheelers in it anymore.”

Students from Teeland Middle School remove trash from
Cottonwood Creek, a heavily impacted urban stream.

That’s the goal of a “green” curriculum – to create a future generation of environmentalists who will act as stewards of our natural resources. But beyond deciding to stop four-wheeling in our streams, students who study green curricula will also be well-prepared to join the growing green workforce, and ultimately help create a cleaner, more sustainable planet.

As part of an NEA Foundation “green grant” program, Grant took part in the Teeland Middle School River Rangers Project, a seventh-grade curriculum that incorporates academics, conservation, and community service.

Made famous by vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Wasilla sits along the banks of the Little Susitna River and is Alaska’s fastest growing community. Grant and 200 of his fellow seventh-graders attended five full-day field trips to the river and its tributaries where they collected data that they used to evaluate the environmental impact on the Little Sustina’s ecology.

The students not only learned about the practical application of scientific concepts through field research, they played an important role in monitoring the impact that rapid community growth has on their ecosystem. 

The curriculum was created by seventh-grade teachers Rhett Buchanan, Mike Shea, and Joe Nolting, and made possible through the support of an NEA Foundation green Student Achievement Grant. The integrated curriculum teaches science, math, literacy, and technology skills through the study of stream ecology. 

“The best outcome of our project is the change in attitude shown by our students,” says Rhett Buchanan. “Many in our area take healthy salmon streams for granted; after learning the complexities of stream ecology, students realize that decisions they make can impact this resource for future generations.”

With $150,000 in new NEA Foundation grant funding designated for projects that integrate green-related topics and experiences into the classroom, more students can take part in such programs.

Buchanan and his colleagues recommend that more teachers take a look at the program and apply.

Students classify and sort macroinvertebrates.

“We encourage other educators to look beyond textbooks and routine curriculum. Be creative, give students a life experience they won’t soon forget,” Buchanan says. “Applying for an NEA Foundation Grant is a small investment of time that can pay off in the lives of your students.”

The expansion of the NEA Foundation grants program was made possible by support from Nickelodeon and the Staples Foundation for Learning. Public school educators are eligible to apply for individual grants worth up to $5,000 for the development and implementation of ideas, techniques, and approaches for teaching green concepts.

“These partnerships have allowed us to substantially grow our grants program this year, which is important during an economic downturn when educators are hard pressed to find resources to advance student achievement,” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “Over the past year, the number of grant applications has doubled. We have seen a steady increase in green grants that are being used to integrate environmental issues across all school curricula.”

The next deadline for the grants is October 15.



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