Group helps students learn about Great Lakes

Courtesy Photo Members of the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative gather for a regional networking meeting at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center on Tuesday.

ALPENA — A state program titled Michigan Green Schools started in 2006 to help schools achieve environmental goals through community activities and outreach.

According to the program’s website, its first year saw 18 schools participate. Last school year, 307 schools participated — including one school in Northeast Michigan: Alcona Elementary School.

Tracy D’Augustino is Alcona County’s Green Schools county coordinator and a Michigan State University Extension science educator who verified Alcona Elementary’s application for its evergreen status.

“I do a lot of work out in the field and support different projects,” D’Augustino said. “Alcona Elementary is one of the few that continue to submit to the Green Schools. There used to be a benefit to apply for grants and say you were a Michigan Green School. Now, there’s a bigger bonus for folks if they say they’re with the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative when they apply for grants.”

The Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative started around the same time as Michigan Green Schools, launched in 2007 by the Great Lakes Fishery Trust with a similar goal of letting students explore the Great Lakes’ ecosystems through projects.

By 2018, it became an independent nonprofit with several networks spread across the state, including the Northeast Michigan network that covers Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency, Alcona, Arenac, Cheboygan, and Otsego counties.

On Tuesday, the group held a regional networking meeting at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena that saw teachers and officials talk about the upcoming year and how the 2023 results looked.

According to an infographic provided by the group, 29 schools across the seven counties utilized the nonprofit’s assistance, including Rogers City Elementary School, Lincoln Elementary School, and Alcona Community Schools.

Projects included a rain garden Alcona High School students worked on at the Harrisville Harbor from 2022 to 2023 and a beach cleanup by Rogers City Elementary students.

“We’re looking to have the teachers that are part of our network and continue to mentor other teachers to bring them into the fold and have that kind of support,” Meag Schwartz, network coordinator of the initiative, said. “The event that happened (Tuesday) was an annual gathering of our partners and educators to celebrate what we accomplished in 2023, and then really to project out to 2024. We’re even thinking beyond that now, because we’re trying to figure out what we want to accomplish in Michigan and what kind of impact we want to have collectively. That’s really the heart of who we are.”

While the initiative is an independent nonprofit, government entities such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service help put projects together for students, along with other nonprofits such as Huron Pines.

Schwartz said Northeast Michigan should see some spring cleanups happening in the future, along with a vernal pool monitoring project. A vernal pool is like a shallow pond.

“It does take a little bit more energy to teach this way and to engage your students this way,” D’Augustino said. “It’s more intensive than just using a textbook and worksheets, but we really encourage teachers to be just as interested in the work as the students. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we think it’s really exciting stuff.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today