Teacher shows antlers to students by a stream in winter.
Living Classrooms educator Julian Whitley, left, lets fourth grade students from Federal Hill Preparatory School feel a deer antler during an outside activity at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

For two decades, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has supported projects and programs that help deliver Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) to students through its Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) grant program. B-WET first supported projects in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 2002. It now serves seven regions across the country: California, Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, New England and Pacific Northwest.

NOAA’s Office of Education and the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office celebrated the anniversary with past and present B-WET grantees, elected officials and students. Current B-WET grantee, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, hosted the event in mid-November 2022 at their headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland, overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.

“Today is a celebration of our environment and our future,” said James Jiyu Obasiolu, a sophomore at Atholton High School and student leader with the Howard County Youth Climate Institute in Maryland. He emphasized why MWEEs are a critical part of students’ educational experiences: “Education is such a significant component of fighting climate change as our survival depends on the environmental literacy of our students.”

NOAA’s program is a key resource for helping the Chesapeake Bay Program meet its Environmental Literacy Goal.

Two decades of supporting environmental literacy

“We’re here to celebrate 20 years of a program that punches well above its weight,” said Maryland Senator Ben Cardin. “For the relatively small investments that we made in the B-WET program over its 20 years, it has returned so much more. It has leveraged so much activity. It has had such an impact on our program to preserve the Bay.”

Since 2002, NOAA has awarded more than $117 million nationwide to support 929 B-WET projects. In the Chesapeake, B-WET has supported 700,000 students and 27,000 teachers over the course of 20 years. In 2022 alone, the program reached approximately 2,800 educators and 49,500 students across the country with high-quality environmental education programs.

B-WET funding is provided through competitive grants that promote MWEEs.. They include learning both outdoors and in the classroom, and are designed to increase the environmental literacy of all participants.

“Through experiential environmental opportunities, this important program imparts the responsibility of environmental stewardship on the next generation, and teaches students how their everyday actions impact their environment,” Maryland Representative John Sarbanes said.

B-WET-supported professional development programs increase teachers’ watershed literacy, confidence and intention to implement MWEEs. In turn, this helps students improve in a range of environmental stewardship and science literacy outcomes.

“For 20 years, B-WET has given young Americans an early appreciation for the wonders of the natural world as well as the power they have to protect it,” said Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen, a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. “The funding we’ve secured for this program has been especially impactful in teaching Maryland students about the importance of preserving the Chesapeake Bay. I will continue working to promote hands-on educational opportunities that inspire young people to serve as the next generation of environmental stewards.”

Celebrating accomplishments and looking forward

Even as the group celebrated NOAA B-WET’s accomplishments to date, the NOAA B-WET team is hard at work to ensure more students and teachers benefit from MWEEs. In the Chesapeake Bay, two new B-WET funding opportunities are open. This year, Chesapeake B-WET is offering opportunities to support schools district-wide and regional environmental literacy efforts. A total of up to $700,000, subject to appropriations, may be available to fund between five and seven new projects.

To learn more about Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences, visit our website Baybackpack.com

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