September 30, 2020

Educational Grants Support Seekonk Land Trust’s Mission

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If you or your family have attended Seekonk public schools or used the public library, it's likely you've benefited from educational grants sponsored by the Seekonk Land Conservation Trust (SLCT). SLCT has been supporting environmental education since 1987 when board member Gerie Zaretsky and SLCT’s president Mary Wilson arranged the first elementary school field trip with 300 students to the Audubon’s Caratunk Wildlife Refuge on Brown Avenue. Shortly thereafter, SLCT established an annual educational grant program which continues to flourish today with well over 100 grants awarded and thousands of students participating. Seekonk Public School teachers are invited to apply for annual grants of up to $500 to fund environmental education programs for their students. By awarding these mini-grants, the Land Trust hopes to foster an appreciation for nature and environmental science in our young community members.

The Caratunk Nature Program continues to be popular with Ms. Lisa Hopkins third grade at Martin Elementary. For the past 5 years bringing her class to Caratunk “.... provides my third grade students a perfect hands-on opportunity to experience nature and biodiversity in their hometown,” says Hopkins. On their nature hike, students find evidence of otter, muskrat, turkeys and deer, and learn to identify common bird and plant species. One student writes to the Trust, “I will always remember, leaves of three, let it be,” as she learned to identify the ubiquitous springtime poison ivy.

Ms. Angela Cunard, teacher and chair of the science department at Seekonk High School, has been awarded grants for the past 18 years. Her Advanced Placement Biology students have been conducting an ongoing field study of water quality in Burr’s Pond and the Runnins River with their SLCT grant funds. Cunard states, “Students are able to learn and apply ecological concepts to real, hands-on research. They also compare their results to those of previous years, so they are part of a bigger, meaningful project.” Since 2008 Mr. Matthew Wills and his honors biology students have also received grants and joined the study. Both classes of students present their research findings to the Land Trust board and the public at the SLCT annual meeting. For their dedication to their work and students, both Cunard and Wills have been recipients of the Mary Wilson Community Conservation Award from the Land Trust.

As a result of this collaboration with the high school, two student members are invited to join the SLCT board meetings during their junior or senior year, to experience the grassroots effort it takes to preserve land. One previous student member, Andrew Breiter-Wu, has continued to be a valuable member of the SLCT board since 2012.

Other memorable programs funded in recent years include Ms. Dina Cloutier’s whale watch trip to Cape Cod Bay, and Ms. Jessica Downing’s courtyard garden and greenhouse project at the middle school. At the elementary schools, Ms.Courtney Sancoucy and her 5th grade students initiated a composting project and built a composting bin. Ms Jennifer Boudreau and Ms.Tracy Churchill arranged a hands-on sea creature program for their kindergarten students through the Biome Marine Biology Center. Other grants have been awarded for programs with Audubon’s Oak Knoll Sanctuary in Attleboro, Buttonwoods and Roger Williams Park Zoo, Save the Bay, and the New England Aquarium. Students have studied marine creatures, insects, native species, invasive plants, rainforests, reptiles, watersheds, water quality, and climate change.

SLCT’s commitment to environmental education expanded in 1993 with a grant to the Seekonk Public Library to establish an Environmental Resource Center (ERC) in memory of Land Trust founder Mary Wilson. SLCT continues to provide annual funding to the ERC which, Library Director Peter Fuller, says, “..... offers a wide variety of material and programs that explore a broad range of topics including environmental sciences, ecology and sustainable living. The success of SLCT and the Town of Seekonk in preserving our open spaces is evidence of expanding environmental awareness. We at the library believe the materials and programs provided by the ERC influence this change.”

In 2018, Seekonk Library and SLCT partnered with the Town’s Conservation Commission to launch a Seekonk Nature Photography Contest. Fuller says, “the contest encourages people to explore natural spaces in Seekonk, provides local photographers an opportunity to display their work, and allows the library to develop a unique, local collection of images of our town.” The library plans to revive the photo contest and other ERC programs in fall 2020.

The SLCT Board is grateful to and inspired by all grant recipients whose dedication to environmental science education has made a lasting impact on our town. Ms. Jessica Downing acknowledging her recent grant writes, “SLCT has been such an amazing supporter of our schools and our children. It is so important that our young community members (soon to be leaders!) appreciate and respect our natural world.” Now more than ever, we couldn't agree more.

SLCT is a volunteer nonprofit 501(c)(3) dedicated to the preservation of open space, land stewardship, and environmental and conservation education in the town of Seekonk. To learn more about SLCT and our grant program, or to donate, please visit www.seekonklandtrust.org or follow us on www.facebook.com/SeekonkLCT.

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