November 13, 2023 /
Melinda Peters

A Historic Investment in Outdoor Learning

Casey Trees is thrilled to announce that we have been awarded the largest environmental education grant in our history—$600,000 from the DC Department of Energy and Environment for the 2023-24 school year. This is a collective effort and partnership with five other outdoor learning organizations. The coalition leading this work includes Casey Trees, Urban Adventure Squad, Anacostia Watershed Society, Living Classrooms, Alice Ferguson Foundation, and NatureBridge. Together we will provide meaningful environmental educational experiences to 2,000 4th and 5th graders in DC Public and Public Charter Schools.

Program Breakdown

Casey Trees and its partners will work with about 1,000 4th graders and 1,000 5th graders in DC Public and Public Charter schools, almost all of which are Title 1 (a poverty rate of 35% or higher). Students will learn about local watersheds, pollution prevention, and natural systems, through lessons that are aligned to elementary school curriculum standards and to DC’s Environmental Literacy Plan, which is updated and published every three years by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE).

The 5th grade program is a 2-night, 3-day overnight outdoor education program that takes place at one of three locations: Camp Fraser, run by Living Classrooms; Hard Bargain Farm, run by the Alice Ferguson Foundation; or Prince William Forest Park, run by NatureBridge. Activities will incorporate themes about watersheds, pollution prevention, food webs, the earth spheres, natural systems, and how humans are intertwined into all of it.

The 4th grade program continues and expands a pilot program, “Nature Near Schools” that began in 2021, when overnight programming was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Nature Near Schools” brings hands-on environmental education experiences to school grounds and the nearby neighborhood, led by Casey Trees and Urban Adventure Squad. Students will be introduced to this theme, “By land, by river, by street, by tree: Students Protect the Watersheds in DC,” and be guided by the question, “What human actions impact the health of our urban ecosystems and how can we protect these ecosystems?” Fourth graders participating in Nature Near Schools will also travel to DC’s Kingman & Heritage Islands on the Anacostia River, where they hike and learn with Living Classrooms and take a boat ride with Anacostia Watershed Society to address more watershed issues and make connections to their school grounds.

What’s a MWEE? 

Both the 4th and 5th grade programs offer a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE, pronounced MEE-wee), which provides a framework for students to define an environmental issue they want to address.

A MWEE aligns to Common Core standards and offers children a hands-on, investigative, and project-oriented educational experience. This is part of the District’s commitment to ensure that every student is provided MWEE programming by the time they graduate high school. These experiences also provide professional development opportunities for teachers, integrate environmental literacy into the classroom curriculum, and help prepare students to be competitive in the growing green economy. Through this partnership, we are providing a systemic approach to bringing this to schools and hope to see more growth in reaching the more than 50,000 students enrolled in the district’s public school system.

As we nurture this symbiotic relationship between education and environmental advocacy, we build not just a curriculum but a legacy of conscientious citizens ready to protect and cherish the delicate balance of our planet. This is not just a program; it’s a movement, and together, with unwavering determination and collaborative spirit, we are empowering the next generation to shape a sustainable and thriving future.