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KACEE is Awarded a $50,000 AmeriCorps Kansas Planning Grant



The Kansas Association for Conservation & Environmental Education has been awarded a $50,000 AmeriCorps Kansas planning grant to begin building an environmental education AmeriCorps program in Kansas, modeled after KAEE and CAEE AmeriCorps programs.


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KACEE began the discovery process for pursuing a potential AmeriCorps grant in 2021, as it is well known that environmental education efforts in Kansas are lacking in capacity and funding. Modeled after successful and longstanding AmeriCorps programs in Kentucky and Colorado, KACEE's proposal to the Kansas Volunteer Commission included a request for a 1 year, $50,000 planning grant (2022-2023) to, well, plan, for a full AmeriCorps grant (2023-2024).


In May 2022, KACEE Staff was notified that we have received funding for a one-year AmeriCorps planning grant!


Currently, KACEE has engaged 6 environmental entities in Kansas who are interested in potentially hosting one or more AmeriCorps Members to build up their individual EE programs, augmenting environmental education's reach across the state. With additional outreach as a part of this planning grant, we anticipate a minimum of 8 sites to be established through a fully funded AmeriCorps proposal, with an emphasis on sites in higher need rural and urban areas.


Additionally, as part of the planning grant, KACEE plans to hire a half-time program coordinator housed at KACEE. Excitingly, this new staff person will also spend half their time building up the WILD Kansas program (not part of the AmeriCorps planning grant)!



WHY AMERICORPS FOR EE IN KANSAS?


Skilled, professional environmental educators are needed to build the capacity of classroom teachers and support student learning through field trips, school-based programming, and professional development. Research shows that in order for students to develop environmental literacy and lifelong stewardship skills, frequent, positive, sequenced EE experiences are required. (Williams and Chawla, 2016 and Morag and Tal, 2012;).


Fort Hays State University (Clay, 2021) conducted a survey in 2020 of 224 urban, suburban, rural, and frontier rural teachers across multiple grades and subject areas to understand perceived barriers to providing environmental education. Of those surveyed, 73% identified that environmental topics are important to their personal identity as educators, and yet, 79% say that they only sometimes, rarely, or never teach environmental education or environmental topics in their classrooms. This data indicates that the use of EE in classrooms is an under-utilized strategy for engaging students in learning, though it has demonstrated positive impacts on academic performance, development of key skills, and health and well-being.


Several barriers were identified by teachers which limit the inclusion of EE as a part of what every child experiences in school. These barriers include lack of field experiences, and lack of training and materials specific to grade level, subject and/or geographic region. The following data creates a compelling rationale for supporting educators to teach EE in their classrooms. When asked, 73.6% of Kansas teachers surveyed said they would be likely to integrate environmental education into their teaching if stated barriers were addressed.


A successful AmeriCorps program in Kansas will support classroom teachers by addressing these key barriers, enabling teachers to integrate more EE into their classrooms; thereby supporting educational strategies with students, improving academic performance, developing critical thinking and problem solving skills, increasing civic engagement, and supporting student health and well-being (Ardroin, et. al, 2018 and Kuo et al., 2018).



WHAT'S NEXT?


Throughout 2022 and 2023, KACEE Staff and its AmeriCorps host site representatives will be working on the full grant proposal with Colorado and Kentucky counterparts and a consultant. We will also be participating in a number of trainings related to AmeriCorps and planning a brand new AmeriCorps program, recruiting a volunteer Advisory Council, training and onboarding our program coordinator, and working hard on other new-program related tasks, planning, and build-out!


Are you an environmental education provider interested in partnering with KACEE as an AmeriCorps host site? Email Laura Downey at ldowney@kacee.org.







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