By Guest Blogger:
Senior Vice President, Education, American Forest Foundation
Project Learning Tree’s (PLT) 28th Annual International Coordinators’ Conference was held this year in Traverse City, Michigan in May. During this time, our network of over 120 environmental educators from across the US, as well as Japan, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, came together to network and participate in ongoing professional development.
Project Learning Tree (PLT) is a program of the American Forest Foundation, which uses forests as a window on the world and provides educators with environmental education resources that inspire youth from all grade levels. We are excited to work with partners such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) on a number of PLT projects because SFI shows a commitment to youth in helping them learn about sustainability and the future for our forests.
At each of our PLT conferences we strive to have a long lasting impact on the community in which we visit. This year, thanks to the support of an SFI Community Grant, we were able to do that by working with elementary school students from Mill Creek Elementary School to provide meaningful arts and environmental education experiences along with a business model to provide future income for their school.
This journey began long before our conference, when the Mill Creek students worked in early 2014 with local artist Nick van Frankenhuyzen who taught the students how to journal and sketch what they see in nature. The students then worked to create beautiful watercolors, sketches and other drawings of their local environment. This artwork was available at the conference for our participants to purchase and will be made available for sale in the future to residents within the community. Additionally, Michigan PLT has purchased artwork that has been converted into placemats that will be used in education centers across the state. All proceeds from the sale of the artwork directly benefit the Mill Creek Elementary School.
Conference participants and students were able to come together during our conference field trip to the Grand Traverse Conservation District where we heard student presentations about the journey they had taken on this project. We then participated in the painting of a tree mural at the Grand Traverse Conservation District with the students and Nick. The mural will be an enduring reminder of all that the students have accomplished and we were so glad to join our hands with theirs to create an everlasting tree in their local community!
This project would not have been possible without support from SFI and the successful efforts of our Michigan PLT State Coordinator, Ada Takacs, who, along with her steering committee members, led the work on the ground.