By Conference Scholarship Recipient Dan Gruhlke, Pinewood Elementary School, Monticello, MN
Saturday, August 6, 2016 was a beautiful morning for this year’s MAEE “Grow in the Open” Conference with a clear sky, little wind, temp.’s just under the averages, and low humidity!
I wish I could’ve only bicycled to the Conference as I had desired, and that was probably my biggest regret of the day. The Conference began with the keynote speaker, Chad Dayton, who challenged us regarding communicating the positive impact of EE, policy advocacy and reform, and community involvement. Chad’s sweeping, informative, overview was followed by a brief divide and collaborate and upon reconvening we lightning shared our collective discussions with highlights like “healthy environment, healthy us,” community mapping to know who the agencies are and what the barriers are, identifying the economics of the big players (city governments, corporations, and school districts), and making public lands more accessible.
Following Chad’s keynote address there were two breakout sessions, lunch, annual member meeting, two more additional breakout sessions, and a brief closing session. I attended Britt Gangeness’ “Using the SEEK website to promote your work” where I was encouraged to pursue using SEEK’s “Partner” resource. This was followed by Anna Dutke and Leah Bulver’s (Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools) “Implementing Nature Preschool and Kindergarten in a School District” where I was encouraged by a public school district embracing EE demonstrated in their expansion from prekindergarten to kindergarten to thirty other classroom teachers who will be incorporating an Outdoor Classroom. Lunch was enhanced by the gorgeous weather and the annual Member meeting was informative. The third session was difficult for me to decide, but I was glad to have participate in Stephanie Kappel’s (Como Zoo Representative) “Hands-on Curriculum for a Crowded Planet” where I was engaged in activities like “Measuring a Million,” “For the Common Good,” and “Food for Thought.” The final session was Melissa Tobias and Jennifer Elsen’s (Dodge Nature Center Preschool) “Environmental Education for the Littlest Ones (3-5 year olds)” where I was able to hear from some of this year’s Nature-Based Preschool National Conference locale’s employees. The Conference was closed out by Angie Ziobro’s well designed “Blue Marble” send-off.
It was a tremendous day, and I’m grateful for the generosity of MAEE and its supporters to allow me the opportunity to be encouraged and see the pathways that I, too, may take within my own school district in furthering environmental education.