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National Environmental Education Foundation awards $30,000 grant to GSMNP and FOTS

October 28, 2020

  • Boys & Girls Clubs of TN Valley on hike in GSMNP

by Julie Dodd

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), in partnership with Friends of the Smokies, recently received a $30,000 grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) to fund “Getting Green with STEM – Smokies Style.”

“Getting Green with STEM — Smokies Style” was one of only six projects nationwide to receive a NEEF grant for 2020.

Collaborating with 21st Century Community Learning Centers

student collects data in GSMNP

Working with GSMNP rangers, students learn how to collect data for citizen science projects. NPS photo

The funding will enable the GSMNP education staff to have more opportunities to collaborate with two 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) near to the park – the Swain County Schools in North Carolina and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley.

The program in each state will have a different structure in terms of how often park staff will meet with the youth in the programs.

The primary goal of the program is for the students to experience the park and its resources through the eyes of scientists. The program will be supervised by GSMNP Education Branch Chief Susan Sachs.

The students will learn how to collect data for on-going citizen science projects, including classifying insects and plants.

Through the “Getting Green with STEM – Smokies Style” program, the students will learn more about the park’s resources and develop a greater connection to the park.

Rangers connecting with student participants

A second goal for the program is for GSMNP rangers to develop deeper personal connections with the student participants, as the rangers will be meeting with each group of students multiple times. Through this experience of working with the rangers and learning about the park, the students will be inspired to continue to connect with the Smokies and other nearby public and park lands.

The Swain County 21st CCLC program has approximately 350 students in grades K-9 who meet after school and on teacher work days. Sixty students also meet for two weeks in the summer for a STEM camp. GSMNP currently connects with these students twice a year for afternoon programs and for a one-day field trip to the park during their summer camp.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley have approximately 500 students in 16 different clubs, with most clubs serving grades K-9. In the past, the park’s education staff has worked with these clubs in their summer programs for mostly recreational activities held at the park. For the grant program, rangers will meet at club locations and develop citizen science projects that can be conducted at those locations.

The project was envisioned before the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, park rangers planned to meet with students in the park but now are shifting the project to virtual meetings with students. It is hoped that spring and/or summer projects can happen in person. The park education staff will work closely with 21st CCLC instructors to help them adapt to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the educational community.

The “Getting Green with STEM – Smokies Style” program will incorporate activities from SmokiEEEs,  a website launched in April that was created by park educators and FOTS to provide much of the park’s “Parks as Classrooms” program online in response to the schools closing.

Following project completion, all resources and related content developed under the six NEEF grants will be made available via US Department of Education’s professional learning portal.