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Lower School earns Eco Elementary School Award

| Maumee ValleyMaumee Valley photo | Lower School

he Lower School at Maumee Valley Country Day School is receiving the 2023 “Eco Elementary School Award” for ongoing efforts to expand the use of nature in its classrooms and extracurricular activities.

The annual award recognizes a preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school for promoting environmental understanding and respect throughout the study body. It is awarded by the Science Alliance for Valuing the Environment (S.A.V.E.), a nonprofit organization at Lourdes University that serves the Toledo region with sustainability-focused programs.

In selecting Maumee Valley, S.A.V.E. judges were impressed with many program aspects, said Susan Perzynski, a S.A.V.E. board member. Maumee Valley was noted for how it weaves traditional indoor curriculum into outdoor classrooms; its commitment to students spending multiple hours outside each week; the creation of a student group for leadership opportunities; partnerships with local businesses; and the many Forest School- and nature-based certifications earned by teachers.

Maumee Valley and honorees in other categories are being honored May 9 at the Franciscan Center of Lourdes University. A reception begins at 6 p.m. with the program starting at 6:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Over the past five years, the MV Lower School has infused the Forest School philosophy across its curriculum. Forest Schools are nature-based communities focused on learner-led outdoor play that encourages curiosity and exploration. 

The Lower School serves students in prekindergarten through 3rd Grade (ages 3 to 9). At Maumee Valley, prekindergarten and junior kindergarten students are in the school’s forest for up to three hours a day, while kindergarten through 3rd grade students are in the forest for up to three hours every Friday (“Forest School Fridays”).

With a 75-acre campus, many of which are wooded with abundant plants and wildlife, the school has a ready-made laboratory for Forest School practices.

For example, prekindergarteners and junior kindergarteners―led by teachers Christine Marker, Amy Dankert, Alex Kania, and Maggie Reed―are exploring their senses with outdoor experiences, like sketching their observations of the same tree throughout the different seasons and listening to different bird calls. Kindergarteners and 1st Graders―led by teachers Kitty Weinberg, Heather Huhn, and Agustina Sanchez―are gaining an understanding of math concepts as they count sticks for their campfire stories, use their weight to test the strength of vines, and use pinecones and acorns to make patterns.

Meanwhile, 2nd and 3rd graders―led by teachers Emily Prater, Renee Moebius, Sarah Ettore, and Katie Gilsdorf―are making sugar from the sweet sap of the maple tree during a unit titled “How Does Where We Live Impact How We Live?” This winter, these students also could be found making snow volcanoes as a hands-on learning experience during their Earth Systems unit.

“We are honored to be recognized by S.A.V.E. for our many program improvements,” said Michelle Thomas, head of the Lower School. “The recognition validates our nature-based teaching as a powerful component of the schoolwide curriculum.”

The Lower School also started a “Green Team” club for 2nd and 3rd graders, operated in partnership with Keep Toledo/Lucas County Beautiful and led by Ms. Thomas. The team serves as a leadership opportunity, as students are responsible for educating each other on sustainability and recycling. The team also coordinates the school’s paper and cardboard recycling programs. Its most current project is a campus letter-writing campaign advocating for additional outdoor trash cans to prevent littering on campus. 
The school also has expanded partnerships with northwest Ohio businesses and nonprofit groups, including Metroparks Toledo, Toledo Grows, Nature’s Nursery, MacQueen Orchards, area farms, and the Butterfly House.

S.A.V.E. was established in August 1990 by concerned citizens who wanted to make a difference and promote a love and appreciation for the natural world. The group’s work has been recognized by the National Environmental Awards Council, the Ohio House of Representatives, and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.