Audrey Hufnagel, a high school senior at Lincoln Academy, talks about her involvement in helping pass the Climate Education Bill LD 1902. Submitted photo

Maine environmental education organizations celebrated advancements in outdoor learning in Maine on Feb. 27 with around 100 attendees including students, teachers and legislators in the Hall of Flags at the Maine State House. Celebration organizers also announced the release of the 2022 Census of Community-Based Outdoor and Environmental Learning report, a collaborative data project hosted by the Teach ME Outside initiative.

The 2022 census captured data from more than 900 individuals from all 16 Maine counties. This follow up study to the 2019 census tracks trends in the field, offers data to inform program design and measures equitable access to environmental education and outdoor learning in Maine, according to a news release from Emory Hargor, Communications Coordinator for The Maine Environmental Education Association.

A key finding of the census was that Maine educators identified Wabanaki studies as their most pressing professional development need. Brianne Lolar, a citizen of the Panawahpskek nation and the Department of Education’s first Wabanaki Studies Specialist, shared how vital expanded access to Wabanaki studies is. This spring, Lolar is partnering with the Maine Environmental Education Association (MEEA) to host four in-person Wabanaki Studies professional development workshops for in-school educators.

The celebration also highlighted expanded funding and jobs in outdoor learning, though the new census report identified funding is still a barrier for teachers. Sarah Timm, who spoke at the celebration, was hired as Oxford Hill’s Outdoor Learning Coach thanks to a Rethinking Responsive Education Ventures (RREV) grant from the Department of Education.

MEEA’s Mini-Grants for Outdoor Learning Program has given over $600,000 to teachers, reaching more than 100,000 children in Maine public schools.

Audrey Hufnagel, a high school senior at Lincoln Academy, spoke about her involvement in helping pass the Climate Education Bill LD 1902 that was signed into law in 2022, through a multi-generational campaign of students, teachers, and advocates. This pilot program provides $2 million in funding for professional development and community partnerships for three years. “My generation has to deal with the impacts of climate change and our lives both currently and in the future. Climate education can also help prepare us for future jobs in the growing clean energy sector and other careers as we work toward a more sustainable future,” said Hufnagel during her speech.

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