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Ecology in Classrooms & Outdoors—connecting students with nature

Since 2005, Ecology in Classrooms & Outdoors (ECO) has inspired students to care for nature and their local communities through hands-on science education and climate action. The organization provides hands-on programming to students in grades K-12 in the Portland Metro area. These firsthand interactions guide the natural curiosity of the students to inspire a deep connection with nature and stewardship.

co-outdoors_kid-looking-at-a-snail-close-upAn inclusive curriculum fostering eco education.

ECO works directly with the public school system, providing teachers and administrators with partnerships to foster a love of the outdoors and support the planet. The organization also offers a variety of online tools available to anyone, including free lessons on its website. The organization’s model aligns with Next Generation Science Standards, Oregon Environmental Literacy Plan and STEAM teaching targets.

By helping students build strong relationships with the natural world, ECO helps foster a desire in students to become stewards of the environment and to work throughout their lifetime to protect it. When conducting post-education surveys, they found that 90% of students within the program believe they are capable of positively impacting the environment.

Lessons for every age and every interest.

ECO has well-trained staff and educators with over 50 years of combined environmental teaching experience. The curriculum and educational models presented to students are diverse—covering most aspects of ecology, including:

  • Environmental justice
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Renewable energy
  • Consumption and waste

ECO offers Place-based Units (PBUs), comprehensive curriculum packages that extend ecological concepts into social science, English language arts, math, and art with hands-on materials, a teacher guide and presentation.

ECO’s Climate Action Education Program is excellent for middle and high school teachers to engage students in addressing climate change. The program creates tangible goals with actionable steps that these students can directly apply to the world around them.

Since 2005, the organization has provided over 5,000 in-person indoor and outdoor natural science lessons to over 36,000 students and 1,200 teachers.

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From joy comes genuine curiosity.

Alexandra Gordon, the Program Manager for ECO, shared a story about a mother and daughter on a field trip in the Wahoo Natural Area. Students planted trees and shrubs, then hiked to look for plants and animal species.

During the hike, one Latinx student and her mother discovered a slug on a leaf, and Alexandra commented that the student had remembered one of the hiding places slugs use.

“The student said, ‘I want to look for creatures all day! I didn’t know there were so many all over!’” Gordon said. “This slug had just created a spark within the student, igniting her joy at exploring nature.”

This moment illustrates ECO’s model in action. Outdoor, hands-on lessons with ECO educators gave this student the confidence and knowledge to take the initiative to explore on her own.

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Leading with passion to inspire action.

ECO’s team is committed to leading with passion. Regarding the program, Andy McGee, Grants & Contract Manager at Ecology in Classrooms & Outdoors, shared that ECO’s mission aligns with their passion. That passion centered on helping as many students as possible learn about the outdoors so they can connect directly with nature. They believe that when students understand just how vital nature is, they are more willing, capable, and interested in working to take care of it.

ECO programs make it possible for students to create that type of connection. Andy stated that they have learned a lot in their time with Ecology in Classrooms & Outdoors about climate action and the simple, everyday steps they can take to positively impact climate change, like handling home repairs and preserving food.

Support ECO and its mission.

Demand for ECO’s programming is currently greater than the team can meet, so they are developing a digital curriculum package that teachers can use in the classroom. Community support is critical to support this work. Since 2015, OnPoint has donated $19,700 to ECO. If you would like to volunteer or make a donation, you can help ECO achieve its goal of creating generations of environmental stewards. With community support, ECO can continue to empower more students to be active and informed advocates for their communities—both built and natural.

Learn more about ECO’s work in our community here.

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