NWNA launches online ecology learning program

Teacher ecology institute available

SACO, Maine -- At a time when many students have turned to online learning at home, The Ecology School, a pioneer and leader in environmental education, is teaming up with Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) and its Poland Spring® brand (Poland Spring) to provide new ways to teach and learn about ecology.

Together, Poland Spring and The Ecology School are providing students with top-of-the-line, virtually accessible resources, offering a new educational institution to train ecology education leaders nationwide and developing a sustainable learning facility in the Northeast.

The Ecology School is scaling their mission of inspiring stewardship of and connection to the natural world through nature-based lessons about ecology, conservation, farming and sustainability. Thanks in part to the more than $2.3 million in support over a three-year period from Poland Spring, together they have developed:

• EcologyOnline sponsored by Poland Spring®, an e-learning curriculum available online for all students;

• Teacher Institute for Watershed Science and Conservation, sponsored by Poland Spring®, an experiential professional development program for teachers across the country; and

• Poland Spring® Education and Dining Commons, a recently constructed environmentally sustainable facility to foster educational experiences.

"Now more than ever, there's a need for virtual education and training that motivates people to get outside and explore the nature in their own backyards. These expanded programs help make environmental education more accessible today, and in the future," said Drew Dumsch, president/CEO and co-founder, The Ecology School. "Growing a national community of environmental stewards is a critical step in our mission to reset the future of people and our planet."

"Bolstering The Ecology School's mission to bring about a more sustainable future is part of our long-standing commitment to environmental education," said Tara Carraro, Executive Vice President & Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Nestlé Waters North America. "Through our Poland Spring brand, we're taking a multi-faceted approach to help expand the scale of The Ecology School so that its impact goes beyond Maine and their innovative curriculum and approach is accessible to educators, parents and students from coast-to-coast. Through our giving pillars of Water, Packaging, Health, and Climate, we will continue to support organizations that share our passion to help create the next generation of water stewards."

When it comes to hands-on learning, COVID-19 has created additional challenges. Health precautions have forced many students to turn to online learning, limiting outdoor activities and opportunities.

According to a recent survey by The Harris Poll, 73% of parents are concerned their child or children are losing knowledge due to virtual learning, and 69% of parents are concerned their child or children aren't getting enough exercise or time outside during the pandemic.

To help ensure that students are able to advance their learning in healthy and productive ways, The Ecology School's new, virtual learning resources aim to get children and families outside to engage with nature and the environment.

As a proactive means to address the increasing learning gap for children, Poland Spring brand and The Ecology School are providing three new online and in-person approaches for teaching and learning about ecology.

EcologyOnline, the new online e-learning platform, sponsored by Poland Spring, provides five learning modules as a curriculum designed by experts at The Ecology School and its educational partners. Each module contains an educational skit, at least three outdoor-focused activities, and action steps for real world application.

Unlike most e-learning programs, EcologyOnline invites students to get out from behind the computer and take their learning outdoors, no matter their learning environment. The curriculum's online deployment paired with outside activities is focused on inclusivity across rural, urban and suburban areas.

EcologyOnline is now available through EcologyOnline.org.

The Teacher Institute for Watershed Science and Conservation, sponsored by Poland Spring, has been created for the sole purpose of recruiting and training more environmental stewards and educators.

Starting in August 2021, the institute will welcome K-8 teachers from across the country to The Ecology School's River Bend Farm campus in Maine for a four-day, hands-on educational program.

Poland Spring is collaborating with The Ecology School to help ensure the program is available to teachers from communities where NWNA operates.

The Institute ensures no barriers are preventing any teacher from participating in the Teacher Institute by allowing teachers from around the country to apply online and providing financial aid to cover costs like childcare and travel expenses to ensure equitable access.

The President & CEO of the Ecology School, Drew Dumsch, grew up in the Big Rapids area.

"As a native of Michigan, a big part for me growing up in the Rodney and Big Rapids area was being outside all the time building forts, birdwatching with my Grandma Norma Harrison, canoeing on the Muskegon River, hiking and being part of a local 4-H Challenge group," Dumsch said.

Northern Michigan's natural and rural beauty, and those childhood memories instilled in him a passion for the environment that led to the creation of The Ecology School back in 1998, he said.

"I would be thrilled to welcome fellow Michiganders as participants in the school's Teacher Institute," Dumsch said. "Growing a national community of environmental stewards is a critical step in the mission of The Ecology School and the future of people and our planet. I firmly believe that not only students and teachers, but communities throughout Michigan will benefit from the training the classrooms teachers will receive in environmental education through their participation in the Teacher Institute."

Through a variety of outdoor-focused learning sessions, teachers will learn about how to adopt more sustainable practices and how to inspire the next generation to participate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

The Teacher Institute for Watershed Science and Conservation is planned for August 1-7.

Nationally, 94 K-8 teachers each year will be accepted into the program to learn how to engage in outdoor-based science and hands-on learning experiences and how to use them to inspire their students.

Over the course of three years, the program projects to enroll over 280 teachers in the institute. A key component of the program is its ability to provide financial aid to ensure that more teachers are able to join.

Additionally, the Teacher Institute for Watershed Science and Conservation will provide teachers with 15 hours towards Continuing Education Units through the University of Southern Maine, an accredited university.

The application period is now open. Interested teachers can learn more and obtain information at ecologyonline.org and at theecologyschool.org/teacher-institute.

Poland Spring and The Ecology School have a nearly 20-year relationship, during which they've worked together to help educate Mainers. With the help of these new programs, their local efforts will now be expanded to students and teachers across the country.

The Ecology School is a nonprofit ecology education center that transforms how people think about nature and the environment.

Through fun, hands-on, experiential programming, students of all ages learn to become stewards of the environment as they explore local forests, coastal ecosystems, and food systems.

Since 1998, The Ecology School has hosted more than 187,000 students and teachers from across the country, educating about the environment and our collective impact on the planet.  Learn more at TheEcologySchool.org