Messalonskee Middle School teacher Amanda Ripa Aand students used supplies purchased with the grant to prepare the legacy garden for the incoming seventh graders. From left are Kayden Violette, Camryn Swails, Silas L’italien, Liam Allen, Abram Pease, Lydia Parent (in back), Rhys George, Cory Wallce and Jeremy Conry.

In its third and most expansive year yet, the Mini-Grants for Outdoor Learning Program has helped more than 30,000 students from schools in every county in Maine get outside the classroom and into the natural world.

The Maine Environmental Education Association distributed mini-grants to teachers for up to $1,500 each to spend on everything from purchase equipment for outdoor recreation, rain and snow gear, outdoor classroom building supplies, field trips, educator professional development, and garden and science exploration. Teachers developed new and creative ways to engage students in the outdoors and also built upon ongoing projects from the grant program’s last two annual cycles, according to a news release from Emory Harger with the association.

A Chelsea Elementary School student works on building the elevated bed in the Life Skills classroom with the Life Skills teacher Stephanie Millette. Submitted photo

Among this year’s five mini-grant recipients from Kennebec County are Brenda Weis of Cony Middle and High Schools in Augusta who helped fund a school bicycle repair shop, and Rosanna Gargiulo of Chelsea Elementary School in Chelsea who used the funds to purchase materials for the school’s Life Skills class to build three wheelchair accessible elevated garden beds.

Gargiulo said, “[the students] did such an incredible job building the elevated beds that when we displayed their work during our Plant and Seedling Sale and end-of-year Celebration of Learning, many families and community members asked if the beds were for sale!”

Weis purchased helmets, a bike stand, a bike pump, bike lube, several bike tubes and two sets of repair tools. She says that the bicycle repair shop “can encourage youth and our peers to participate in bicycling,” and as a result “they may become future proponents of bicycle lanes, trails, and locations to ride safely in the outdoors.”

This year, the grant program supported more youth and teachers than ever before. The program began in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help teachers bring their classrooms safely outdoors. During the 2022-2023 cycle, 105 schools in all 16 counties received a total of $153,083 with an upward trend in the number of applications from Aroostook, Lincoln, Oxford and Washington. In just three years, the program has funded projects in over 35% of all public schools in Maine, distributing $483,651.11 to 369 applicants, 308 unique teachers, and 233 different schools.


A major goal of the mini-grants program is prioritizing our schools that have the greatest need, such as schools with 80-100% free and reduced lunch rates.

This school year, Brenda Weis at Cony Middle and High School invited the former store manager of Mathieu’s Cycle and Fitness to come to her Outdoor Education class and give a presentation about the basics of bicycle safety and bike maintenance. He included road safety tips, helmet sizing, parts of a bike along with proper seat height, how to change a flat tire and changing gears. The guest speaker joined the class for two days of riding in Augusta Submitted photo

MEEA also values funding teachers over multiple grant cycles, like Amanda Ripa of Messalonskee Middle School in Oakland, who used last year’s funds to purchase ice fishing and perch trapping equipment and materials.

According to the Maine Environmental Literacy Plan, which MEEA was an integral partner in writing, learning outside improves students’ academic performance, advances critical thinking skills, and supports their personal growth, confidence, autonomy, and leadership skills.

Taking class outside also improves students’ overall health and wellbeing, like decreasing stress and anger and improving physical health and relationship skills. Teachers like Ripa have seen firsthand how students’ social, emotional, and academic wellbeing flourish as a result of learning outside.

“The goal for the funds from the outdoor learning grant was to provide active, outdoor opportunities to a group of students who can have challenging behaviors in class and at the end of the day study hall,” said Ripa.

She and her students worked with the soil, seedlings, seeds, gardening tools, and art supplies purchased with the grant to prepare the legacy garden for the incoming seventh graders.


MEEA Co-Director Olivia Griset is excited that the program has grown so much in its third year that it now has served over 350 educators in schools in all 16 counties. “We have some of the most amazing, dedicated and skilled teachers in Maine who are deeply committed to increasing their student’s health, well being, and connection to place through outdoor learning initiatives,” says Griset.

During the 2023-24 academic year, the association plans to target outreach about the program to the schools that have not received funding from them before, along with continued outreach to schools in the Aroostook, Lincoln, Piscataquis and Waldo counties, as they’ve historically been underfunded through this program.

Applications for the 2023-2024 grant cycle will be available at through Friday, Oct. 13. Those interested in applying for next year’s support can email


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