Place-Based Education Engages Thousands of K-12 Students Around Casco Bay

Schools and Nonprofits Collaborate to Provide Environmental Education


Thousands of K-12 students in the Casco Bay region participate in community-based environmental learning programs run by schools, nonprofits, and government agencies. These in-school or field-based programs educate youth about the environment while connecting them to their communities. Community-based learning has many positive impacts, from enhancing critical thinking skills and increasing environmental literacy, to providing youth with a much-needed connection to nature and to real-world issues in their communities. These education programs foster a greater understanding of local environmental impacts and can lead to volunteer stewardship efforts that have a positive effect on the Casco Bay ecosystem.
Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District’s CONNECT program focuses on clean water education with lessons, field trips, and service learning. In 2019, they reached 1,525 students in eleven Bay communities. Photo: CCSWCD


In 2020, CBEP canvassed partner nonprofits and land trusts that provide K-12 environmental education programs. Their responses showed that place-based education is reaching more than 7,900 students in most of the watershed’s communities.

Participating Students by Grade Level

Most place-based education programs are aimed at grades 6-8, followed by grades K-2 and 3-5; fewer programs are geared to grades 9-12. Source: CBEP canvassing of partner organizations

Alignment with Next Generation Science Standards

Fifty-seven percent of organizations said that some or all of their lessons align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Most lessons are focused on water quality, water cycle, watershed, and habitat themes. Source: CBEP canvassing of partner organizations
Through the TroutKids Program coordinated by the Portland Water District, students raise brook trout and release them into water bodies each spring. The students learn about water quality and have hands-on science and stewardship opportunities. Photo: Portland Water District
One nonprofit noted that their biggest success is “working with teachers who are eager to bring real, local issues and collaborative problem solving to their students.”

Successes and challenges

  • Some of the challenges organizations face in carrying out K-12 educational programs include staff capacity issues, funding, scheduling, and the “constant shuffling of science curriculum” that one organization says puts them at risk of program cancellation if they “can’t adapt quickly to content and standards.”
  • Many local organizations recognize the importance of instilling an appreciation for the natural world at an early age, and to that end, are creating early childhood place-based learning programs.
  • Partner organizations need support and training in science standards, to increase linkages between these organizations and school systems. Schools also need support and training on incorporating place-based learning into their existing curricula.
  • The most successful education programs seem to be those with long-standing connections with the schools in their area, where teachers reach out regularly and the provider organizations share resources.