Students at Meroby Elementary School in Mexico explore a stream near the school in October 2019 as part of a nature exploration program. The school was recently named the 2022-23 School of the Year by the Maine Environmental Education Association. Submitted photo

MEXICO — Meroby Elementary School’s nature exploration program isn’t just about learning math and science — it’s teaching students how to be safe and how to identify animal tracks, trees, leaves and other elements in the natural world, teachers said.

It has been so successful in its seven years that Meroby was named School of the Year this year by the Maine Environmental Education Association.

Teachers Maggie Corlett, Michelle Scribner and Kristen Giberson said it started in September 2016 when then-Principal Kim Fuller asked Corlett about starting outdoor classes. Corlett said everyone on her teachers’ team was as excited as she was.

They had to figure out “what it should look like, how does it work at Meroby, how does it work in a public school,” she said.

“We watched videos from (other outdoor) classes,” Giberson said, “we read books, we did all kinds of professional development type things. We really had to decide, like, how are we going to structure the program, what are our limitations, what are we going to need to provide these kids in order to make the program successful.”

From left, Meroby Elementary School Principal Jodi Ellis stands Monday with teachers Michelle Scribner, Kristen Giberson and Maggie Corlett in front of a slide showing students exploring a stream near the school in Mexico in October 2019. The nature exploration program, which takes students outside for math, science and environmental lessons, is in its seventh year. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

The teachers found that even the way they addressed students about issues such as safety, the kinds of words and language they used were different. Rather than saying, “‘Be careful, be careful, you’re gonna get hurt,’ we had to learn to say, ‘Is that branch safe to climb on?’” Corlett said.


Scribner said the classes motivated students to become interested in more nonfiction reading because of everything they were learning in the woods.

“What we learned outside also came inside to our reading, to our writing, to our social studies and science,” Corlett said.

The administration and staff identify so strongly with their nature exploration program that when Scribner was hired in 2019 and Principal Jodi Ellis was hired in August 2020 they were asked during their interviews for their thoughts on the program.

And during Regional School Unit 10 meetings in 2021-22 on the prekindergarten through grade eight school to be built in Mexico, many said it was important that the design provide a connection to the outdoors.

The design statement for the school, recently named Mountain Valley Community School, described it as “a welcoming and collaborative learning environment where we plant the seeds and nurture the roots for a strong tomorrow.”

The new school is planned for the site of Mountain Valley Middle School at 58 Highland Terrace and nearby Meroby Elementary School at 21 Cross St. It would replace those schools and Rumford Elementary School. It’s tentatively scheduled to open by August 2025.


It will home for the award-winning school’s outdoor learning opportunities, which were recognized by the Maine Environmental Education Association.

Meroby math coach Karen Wilson said Cheryl Tobey, a mentor and colleague of hers from the Maine Math and Science Alliance, approached her in 2021, asking if the school would be interested in collaborating with the alliance on a grant to develop lessons to teach math outside.

“When I surveyed the staff, teachers were overwhelmingly on board, so during the spring and summer of 2021 teachers Zoomed and met in person with the alliance to develop math lessons and blog posts about math outdoor education.

“MMSA added the lessons and blog posts to their webpage, and added the Math Alfresco Blog (Wilson’s blog) to their resource page for teachers,” Wilson wrote in an email.

Following the alliance’s grant work with Meroby, they took the concept to other schools “to broaden the scope of this work,” Wilson said. Becky Tapley, alliance education consultant who worked on the original grant project, nominated Meroby for the Maine Environmental Education Award, Wilson said.

The award will be presented at a ceremony to be held 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, at Viles Arboretum in Augusta. All staff and community members are welcome to attend.

Meroby Elementary School teacher Michelle Scribner takes students on a guided walk in the woods in October 2022 near the Mexico school as part of the nature exploration program. Behind her are Abigail Rinne, Eero Gallant, Hunter Gardner, Giovanni Ross, Jaxson LaPointe, Marshall Dubois, Braxtyn Adams, Liam Welch and Garruck Yahn. Submitted photo

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