Shared from the Maine Environmental Education Association Blog Post 02/03/2021
This week we’re featuring Tammi Matula from the East Grand School (EGS) in Danforth, ME! Tammi is a Pre-K through grade 12 physical education teacher who also co-teaches EGS’ Outdoor Education (OE) program. As part of MEEA’s Mini-Grant for Outdoor Learning Program, Tammi received funding to grow the pre-existing fleet of bikes that the students maintain as part of their OE programming.
East Grand’s focus on outdoor learning has been supported on many fronts. Over the years, the school incorporated outdoor education into the foundation of the curriculum. Curriculum development was facilitated and supported by Rural Aspirations and TimberNook who helped build and enhance a new curriculum that was focused on the outdoors and supported teachers with the transition to teaching outside. With support for outdoor learning from the principal, East Grand was able to attract more teachers interested in outdoor education, like Tammi. One of the key supporters of East Grand’s shift to an outdoor focus was (and still is!) the local grassroots group, Citizens Organization for Rural Education (CORE). When the school risked closure, CORE community members worked with the school administration to incorporate local nature-based resources into the school’s mission.
Tammi shared that the emphasis that COVID-19 placed on outdoor learning has provided her the opportunity to expand what her students can learn through outdoor education. One of the benefits that Tammi shared was fostering a sense of achievement. Students can get discouraged when they don’t achieve standard measures of success in the traditional classroom, but the lessons taught in outdoor spaces have more space for experimentation and different measures of success. Tammi related that activities like knot-tying were difficult for some students, but the confidence they gained once they made a breakthrough bolstered their confidence in other areas.
“Education can be tricky, because sometimes it doesn’t feel like real life, but now it feels like real life”
Being prepared for outdoor learning is a challenge that teachers at EGS are still addressing, especially when it comes to having the right equipment and equitable access to gear for students. On some fronts, this challenge has become an opportunity for students to learn lessons and preparedness. Tammi related that getting stuff ready and together for outdoor classrooms can be a challenge, but when the students take charge of tasks, they learn to take responsibility and begin to understand delegation. Tammi underscored that “education can be tricky because sometimes it doesn’t feel like real life, but now it feels like real life.” In this way, the skills they learn in these outdoor settings become practical.
Tammi shared that East Grand has plans to continue expanding their outdoor learning to include a hard outdoor skills program for students in 3rd grade and up; in hopes of building their confidence and extending their learning into the surrounding community. The school’s success makes them a great model for other schools interested in outdoor learning. Tammi suggested a few key pieces you could consider if your school is looking to do outdoor learning: securing board and admin support to incorporate outdoor learning, consulting with outdoor educators and community partners, connecting with nearby resources (like local trails), delegating staff time, and having patience (sustainable outdoor programming takes time!).