Already a champion of connecting children and educators with nature, Mary Baldwin University Associate Professor of Education Tamra Willis has landed a $200,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help launch a new initiative with Staunton City Public Schools to help bridge food supply, student well being, and the environment.

Willis

The Seeds of Learning program is in its infancy, and Willis, who heads up Mary Baldwin’s popular Environment-Based Learning (EBL) program, is just beginning to meet with local school administrators and partners in the Allegheny Mountain School and Project GROWs, but eventually, the project should provide plenty of service-learning opportunities for Mary Baldwin students through work with K–12 students in city schools.

Local schools will investigate food systems and study the relationship among the health of students, local water, and the Chesapeake Bay. Students will problem-solve food supply and waste issues and grow food for their cafeterias in schoolyard gardens.

“We expect to have kids digging in the dirt and planting veggies for their own cafeterias, so it should be a fun learning experience for all,” Willis said. “A study of food systems very naturally connects to content in all subject areas. This kind of project-based approach is a fantastic way to increase student motivation for learning.”

noaa_whiteWith the three-year project, area teachers will take graduate courses in the EBL program while Mary Baldwin students will participate in service-learning activities, thanks to the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement and Allegheny Mountain School connections. The timing is fortuitous as the college welcomed this semester Emily Sullivan, an Allegheny Mountain Institute senior fellow, who will work with Willis on the Seeds of Learning initiative in addition to helping raise awareness around local food and maintaining the student gardens, among other duties.

Willis procured a three-year NOAA grant for watershed study in Mary Baldwin’s Master of Arts in Teaching program in 2003 and another $360,000 NOAA grant in 2009 on behalf of the EBL program to continue learning and teaching about the Chesapeake Bay watershed.