The nature center received the funds based on a proposal to provide scholarships for Title 1 funded schools to reduce their cost to attend field trips. It was sponsored by State Sen. Fran Millar, chair of the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
“In 2011 the Dunwoody Nature Center implemented a strategic plan that sought to expand our reach and impact to a broader audience,” said Dunwoody Nature Center Executive Director Alan Mothner. “This grant award allows us to do just that: increase access to the wonders of the natural world, as well as providing education for those most at risk of losing this vital connection.”
Funding for elementary school field trips has slowly disappeared, most notably for those schools most in need, as school systems reduce their overall budgets. These same economic constraints limit the nature center’s ability to effectively reach those students who would most benefit from experiential learning outside of the classroom.
Georgia Natural Gas’ support will provide the resources needed to reach those children most at risk of losing their innate connection to nature by granting them access to learning in a natural environment. The goal of the program is to remove the single biggest obstacle preventing these schools from participating in off-site field trips — financial hardship — while supporting one of the core missions of the Nature Center: to educate children about the natural world and our place in it as well as motivate environmental awareness and responsible action.
“Georgia Natural Gas is so proud and elated to present the Dunwoody Nature Center with an award through our TrueBlue Community Awards program,” said Maurice Baker, manager of community relations for Georgia Natural Gas. “They’ve earned it. It’s a natural direction for us since the environment and sustainability are an important focus area of our community outreach program. An independent panel of community leaders from the public and private sector were unanimous in their selection of the Dunwoody Nature Center as a recipient. Hopefully, the grant will enable the center to continue on their mission to educate young people on protecting the environment.”
More and more, primary education teachers are following the “no child left inside” mandate and incorporating environmental education practices into their curriculum. However, the schools that are most successful in implementing these principles also tend to be the schools with the most financial backing of PTA and other sponsored funding. By supporting the Title 1 field trip program at the nature center, Georgia Natural Gas will help level the playing field and open up this opportunity to schools regardless of their individual financial means.
Title 1 is the nation’s oldest and largest federally funded program, providing more than $14 billion to school systems across the country for students at risk of failure and living at or near poverty. In the four major metropolitan counties closest to the Dunwoody Nature Center (Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, and Cobb) there are nearly 200 elementary schools that qualify for Title 1 funding.
In DeKalb County alone, where the nature center is based, there are 91 Title 1 elementary schools (67 percent of the total elementary schools in the county). According to the administration that makes the decisions regarding field trips at these schools, cost is the number one barrier to getting children out of the classroom and into the environment to directly experience the concepts that they are learning.
Prior to this award the nature center did not have an established program to allow for Title 1 schools to apply for discounted or free access to field trips.