Two local organizations to use EPA grants for environmental education

BY Eric Holmberg

COLUMBIA — A winter field trip to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area south of Columbia will afford children the opportunity to view bald eagles. When spring arrives, an outing is planned for them to experience wildflowers in full bloom at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.

A $15,000 environmental education grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, announced on Wednesday, will finance these and other seasonal field trips for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri. A separate $43,780 grant went to the Missouri River Communities Network.

“We’re trying to get kids outside their comfort zone, to try and introduce them to things they might not normally be able to experience,” said Ryan Olson, recruitment and outdoors coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri.

The first trip will be Sept. 19 to learn about Monarch butterflies.

“We wouldn’t be able to do it on this type of scale where we have transportation to do things, to go places, to have this kind of access,” Olson said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters also hosts an annual stream cleanup in early summer.

“We try to do outdoor programs here as much as we can, but this definitely expands our realm for this sort of thing,” Olson said. “I worked as an interpretational park ranger before I came up here with U.S. Fish and Wildlife (Service), so these are programs that I’m familiar with.”

The organization serves children from single-parent homes, foster children and children with incarcerated parents.

With its grant, the Missouri River Communities Network plans to teach 12 days of science class in four Columbia elementary schools with an environmental curriculum.

“Our target will be the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and that’s primarily because those are the grade levels where, in science, they actually have specific grade-level expectations related to environmental issues,” said Steve Johnson, executive director of the Missouri River Communities Network.

The Missouri River Communities Network will be sending out surveys to every elementary school principal within the next week to see if the school would be willing to participate in the program.

There are 18 outdoor classrooms in Columbia elementary schools according to Johnson. An outdoor classroom can be a wooded area with benches or amphitheater seating, and some have a fire pit or a nearby stream.

“To be honest with you, a lot of the outdoor classrooms are not being used, they’re just sitting there,” Johnson said. “Really the goal of the whole project is to increase environmental literacy, get teachers, students and parent volunteers connected to the outdoor classrooms.”

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