Chincoteague Bay Field Station’s SPARK program in Virginia named one of five winners in UL Innovative Education Award Program to Advance Environmental and STEM Education
In collaboration with North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), program champions excellence and innovation in youth programming that uses the environment as pathway to STEM learning
NORTHBROOK, IL and WASHINGTON, D.C. [August 17, 2016] – Chincoteague Bay Field Station’s SPARK program (Shore People Advancing Readiness for Knowledge) in Wallops Island, Virginia (www.cbfieldstation.org/SPARK), which fosters environmental science interactions outside the classroom between parents and children through an intergenerational and scaffolding approach (progressively incremental) to E-STEM learning, has been named one of the five winners in the second annual UL (Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.) Innovative Education Award program. The organization will receive a grant of $25,000.
By using science-based solutions to tackle environmental issues that affect the eastern shore region of Accomack County in Virginia, SPARK serves a diverse community in which participants range in age from five to 65 and often involve multiple generations of families learning simultaneously. A large majority of the population served by SPARK identifies either as Black, Hispanic, or Latino.
Developed in collaboration with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), the UL Innovative Education Award (ulinnovationeducation.naaee.net) was open to nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and Canada that serve to motivate K-12 students about science and research through E-STEM programming and education about the environment. The intent is to support innovative organizations that are inspiring future researchers, scientists, and problem solvers.
Four other grants were awarded, including a top prize of $100,000. An additional $25,000 grant was awarded along with two others of $50,000 each. All five winning teams from the UL Innovative Education Award (ULIEA) program will meet in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, Aug. 17-19 on the UL campus for the second ULIEA kickoff meeting and leadership summit.
“We were impressed by how SPARK encourages youth to present the source of the problem and implications of the problem to various audiences and how they enabled youth to advocate for feasible solutions,” Cara Gizzi, Director of Public Safety Education and Outreach says. “The judges noted that this year’s winning programs demonstrated the lasting returns on investing in sustained contact with the learners over months as well as years. SPARK and the other winners are the ideal ‘deep learning’ programs that offer effective, meaningful, and measurable engagement in STEM learning that can be readily tracked over time.”
The UL Innovative Education Award proposals demonstrate the values of service learning and a bottom-up approach that includes as many diverse voices, among the core features of the goals for the NAAEE’s ongoing National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education, according to Christiane Maertens, NAAEE’s Deputy Director. “Building on the strengths of service learning, these projects show the impact of the ways people are experimenting with experiential learning,” Maertens says. “Youth are participating in projects that offer tangible benefits to their communities and that learning is directly associated with creating that benefit. These projects also represent many voices including urban, religious, indigenous, people of color, elderly, and women-led populations. For youth, this means achieving a more complex understanding of environmental issues, critical thinking, process and problem solving and seeing how STEM can meet the needs of the community.”
United Way of Virginia’s Eastern Shore has announced that they will allocate funding to support Chincoteague Bay Field Station’s Shore People Advancing Readiness for Knowledge (SPARK) program this year. SPARK is an intergenerational education program which has engaged hundreds of families from Accomack County in advancing reading and math skills through outdoor and place-based learning opportunities since its inception in 1998.
The SPARK program was created by Grace and Matt Cormons and has recently been taken under the educational programming at Chincoteague Bay Field Station. This spring the program has been supported by a Celebrate Urban Birds mini-grant from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Funding from United Way will be used to support the Creekwatchers branch of SPARK, in which students participate in citizen-science projects to monitor water quality on local streams and bays, and also to support SPARK Mentors, parents who help facilitate programming.
This weekend families from Accomack County visited "Sparky's Farm" in Parksley to learn about farm animals, particularly the birds that we find on the farm. Children compared the egg sizes of geese, ducks, and chickens, went on a nature walk, and tried their hand at milking a cow!
SPARK is a family-based educational program that emphasizes inter-generational and place-based learning techniques. SPARK promotes that idea that learning is fun and that the environment serves as a starting block for training families in literacy and math skills.
This event was sponsored in part by the Celebrate Urban Birds mini grant from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
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