Marion Cross School has a very long history of teachers embracing outdoor learning. The LEEEP program was originally created as a way to support all teachers equally in implementing that mode of learning, including those who were less comfortable doing it on their own. It has evolved since 1998 but maintains that foundation of strong collaboration. LEEEP has grown to include the school projects and special events that everyone participates in, such as the school garden, sugaring, Fall Clean-up Day, Earth Day, and three seasonal harvest “meals”.
Lindsay organizes special science-related school programs such as visits by Mary Holland, and The Caterpillar Lab. She works with students and teachers to promote and maintain the school composting system. They use the resulting soil in the school gardens.
“Supporting teachers new to PBEE is fun. Working with new teachers, I will meet with them to discuss LEEEP projects we typically do in that grade level, and we will make a schedule. Before our first outdoor class, we’ll discuss a plan, our objectives, what the experience will look like.”
Lindsay continues, “There is always an element of collaboration between the classroom teachers and myself. At this point in my leadership of the program, we usually have a very fun and engaging first outdoor experience and we happily move forward from there!” She says this was not always the case, however, so, people who are new to outdoor-based education should not give up after a few glitches.
“I remember the first time I took a kindergarten class out and decided to bushwhack to where I knew there were some very cool mushrooms to see. I learned that I should not take excited kindergartners who are just developing their coordination skills bushwhacking! It was some time before that teacher asked me to take her class out again!”
A big benefit of the LEEEP program is that it enables classroom teachers to do more PBEE than they otherwise might. That was the original goal, and they have succeeded. “It takes a lot of time, prep, organization, and clean-up to do some of our projects. It would be challenging for many teachers to have the time on their own,” says Lindsay.
LEEEP also offers school-wide consistency. This is an advantage of having an in-house environmental educator. Lindsay sees all grades from kindergarten upwards. Students become accustomed to outdoor field work, they learn to approach LEEEP classes with a scientist’s mindset (rather than thinking it is an enhanced recess). The processes and expectations are fundamentally consistent throughout their 7 years even as they learn new skills each year. The consistency enables them to learn new skills more readily. LEEEP has helped to establish a school culture of environmental appreciation and understanding, as well as certain scientific skill sets they might not learn in a classroom.
“Having an in-house coordinator also brings consistency for staff,” says Lindsay. “They learn what to expect, feel comfortable with field trips and field investigations, and we are able to work as a team. I can respond to and support staff ideas, requests, and suggestions for new projects.”
The community’s response to LEEEP has exceeded Lindsay’s expectations. “We have to seek quite a bit of help from parents. At first, I thought this would be logistically challenging. Working with parents has been such a pleasure and a benefit. They are as equally engaged and excited as the kids. When they understand what we have been studying, they follow up at home with their children, go on family visits to the habitats we study and talk about science at the dinner table.”