NOAA Grants Give Students, Teachers Hands-On Learning Outdoors

January 2, 2013

Featured

Students in Louisiana grow seedlings in schoolyard nurseries that will later be planted to restore coastal areas. This student opportunity was made possible by a NOAA B-WET grant to Louisiana State University. Photo courtesy of NOAA Gulf of Mexico B-WET.

Students in Louisiana grow seedlings in schoolyard nurseries that will later be planted to restore coastal areas. This student opportunity was made possible by a NOAA B-WET grant to Louisiana State University. Photo courtesy of NOAA Gulf of Mexico B-WET.

Students around the United States are learning more about the water environment using scientific methods thanks to grants from the Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

All B-WET projects emphasize “meaningful watershed educational experiences” through sustained, hands-on activities that are aligned with academic learning standards and respond to regional education and environmental priorities, according to a NOAA news release.

The program recently announced 59 organizations as 2012 grant winners. Each organization is overseeing a project that will bring kindergarten through 12th-grade students to outdoor learning environments for such activities as collecting local water quality samples, inventorying wildlife, performing coastal restoration and rehabilitation, and even, in the case of one Hawaii program, building underwater robots for ocean exploration.

The 2012 winners received grants ranging from $10,000 to $140,000, with some multiyear programs receiving a set amount in this range each year for the duration of the program, according to Bronwin Rice, national coordinator for the B-WET program. There is no limit on how many times programs can receive grants, although the B-WET program is intended to help programs become self-sustaining in the long run, Rice said.

B-WET currently serves seven areas of the country: California, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, New England, and the Pacific Northwest. This year was the first that NOAA presented awards in the Great Lakes region, which was made possible by funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an investment plan for the area developed by 11 federal agencies, according to the NOAA press release.

Students learn to seine and identify estuarine species on a Gulf of Mexico barrier island, part of a 2-day field trip funded by a NOAA B-WET grant to the University of Southern Mississippi. Photo courtesy of NOAA Gulf of Mexico B-WET.

Students learn to seine and identify estuarine species on a Gulf of Mexico barrier island, part of a 2-day field trip funded by a NOAA B-WET grant to the University of Southern Mississippi. Photo courtesy of NOAA Gulf of Mexico B-WET.

After applicants submit their grant requests, local experts review and rank applications; those that rank highest are selected for funding. The number of proposals ultimately funded is determined by the budget NOAA receives from U.S. Congress, according to Amy Clark, B-WET program coordinator for the Gulf of Mexico region.

Pam Blanchard, a professor at Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge), recently won a yearlong extension for her Coastal Roots program, which provides local schoolteachers with curriculum material, primarily for students in middle schools, but also for students in high school and grade school, she said.

The B-WET grant, Blanchard said, “came just in time. It gave us a real boost in the arm.” She explained that the grant helps pay for the curriculum as well as seeds and soil for students to grow coastal plants that they later plant on restoration sites. The money also pays for graduate students to assist teachers in the field.

As with many other grant winners, the B-WET grant allowed the Coastal Roots program to build on its initial successes, Blanchard said.

“What we wanted to do was expand our existing program,” Blanchard said. The NOAA grant allowed the program to expand from 18 to 40 schools across 18 parishes, she explained.

Blanchard said she believes the B-WET grants are making a difference in environmental education by taking students outdoors. “I believe people need to see what is going in a coastal environment for themselves. It’s different from what you read in a newspaper or book,” she said.

The grants are competitive, and funding amounts for the seven regions vary, Rice said.

“Interested applicants should always check the relevant funding opportunities for details,” Rice said. “We expect the next round of funding opportunities to be published in summer 2013.”

Additional details can be found on the NOAA B-WET website or at grants.gov.

Cathy Chang, Highlights

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