Our Grass Roots Start: MEEA’s History
Dedicated to inspiring environmental education in Missouri for more than 27 years.
The Seed Was Planted
The Missouri Environmental Education Association (MEEA) was officially founded at the 1996 conference of Missouri Outdoors Educators. The organizational launch was a well-planned grass roots follow up to the 1994 Governor’s Task Force on Environmental Literacy, with its vision to develop an environmentally responsible citizenry in Missouri. Consequently the MEEA mission was grounded in advancing environmental education (EE) through professional development and networking opportunities for those who work directly with the public, whether in formal school settings, non-formal settings like parks and nature centers, or colleges and universities that train future teachers.
Early Partnerships Propelled Our Growth
The Missouri Department of Conservation played a critical role between 1996 and 2004, providing resources and expertise to get MEEA started. Other early partners, including the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Conservation Federation of Missouri, helped MEEA develop the capacity to become an NAAEE Affiliate and begin hosting annual conferences.
Extra Nutrients Gave Us a Boost
In 2001, MEEA received a 5-year grant from the Environmental Education and Training Partnership States Program. This support was an important part of MEEA’s transformation into a sustainable organization and aided in the next phase of strategic planning.
The Fruits of Our Labor
The original mission to advance environmental education through professional development and networking has guided us along the way. Since 1997, MEEA has organized annual conferences and workshops, published a quarterly and then monthly newsletter, and recognized outstanding environmental educators. View the details for our upcoming conferences and events.
Growing in New Directions
In 2004, as part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 grant, MEEA leaders attended a 4-state board retreat to identify organizational goals and strengthen leadership. That same year MEEA held a Networking and Visioning EE Summit in Columbia, which led to the formation of an Environmental Literacy Working Group. Over the next six years, we were able to step away from state support and survive on our own fundraising efforts, hire part time staff, and identify new initiatives. In 2011, these results crystallized in the creation of a Missouri Environmental Literacy Plan, an effort also supported by an EPA grant.
New Educator Resources
Moving forward, MEEA undertook specific initiatives to fulfill goals in the Missouri Environmental Literacy Plan. In 2013 we started an annual mini-grants program that has awarded over $8,000 to 35 schools and organizations for projects from school gardens to life jackets to raptor cameras. That same year, we used EPA support to create a comprehensive on-line environmental quiz resource, with over 1,200 questions covering four grade bands (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12) and ten topics.
Help From Our Friends
EPA support helped us launch the Missouri Environmental Literacy Advisory Board (MELAB) in 2013. This group of about 40 organizations, institutions, and state and federal agencies meet twice a year to collaborate on state-wide EE initiatives. MELAB participants have helped review our state Environmental Literacy Standards and related quiz questions. Focus groups are working on creating an environmental and sustainability youth leadership and career development plan for Missouri, recognizing stewardship efforts in rural areas and around the state, and developing Missouri Green Schools as a collaborative program to facilitate Missouri’s participation in the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) award program.
EE Rolling on the River
In 2015 MEEA worked with Missouri River Relief (MRR) to secure an EPA grant to develop Missouri River education initiatives from Yankton to St. Louis. The grant enabled MRR to fund local projects along the river, hold a River Rendezvous for river groups to share their stories, launch a teacher workshop, and revitalize a summer Missouri River Academy for youth.
Environmental Education Certification Program
In 2016, we completed revision of the MEEA Environmental Educator Certification program. It is now aligned with NAAEE guidelines on preparation of environmental educators and has a business plan to support its long term success. The on-line program is accessible throughout Missouri and participants can proceed at their own pace as they complete levels.
Breaking Ground for Missouri Green Schools
Also in 2016, MEEA collaborated with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Green Building Council-Missouri Gateway Chapter to start Missouri Green Schools. Through this program successful participants can be nominated for a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) Award and three Missouri schools received the national award in 2017.
As MEEA has grown, so too has our involvement in state and national conferences. MEEA has presented at Interface, DESE’s Math and Science Conference, since 2015. MEEA has also presented at NAAEE, Science Teachers of Missouri, Missouri Coordinated School Health, and the Southeastern Fish and Wildlife Association conferences.
Sustainability Institute for Educators (SIE) Co-Host
Located in St. Louis each June, the SIE is a 3-day immersive institute for teachers and administrators to dive deep into teaching for sustainability. MEEA became a co-host in 2019, joining in the collaboration with Webster University, School of Education; EarthWays Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden; St. Louis County Public Health Department; US Green Building Council–Missouri Gateway Chapter; Saint Louis Zoo, Education Division; and Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School.
Growing Green Schools
In October 2019, MEEA was awarded a 3-year grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to expand the Missouri Green Schools program in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Missouri Gateway Chapter. MGS is expanding to include state-level recognition, provide extra support to enrollees with 60% or more students eligible for free and reduced price lunch, and become a self-sustaining program. Additionally, the Missouri Green Schools team is organizing a statewide network of organizations to support Missouri schools’ advancement across the 3 pillars of green schools: lowering environmental impact, improving health, and providing effective sustainability education. In 2020, MEEA welcomed its first cohort of AmeriCorps VISTAs to the MGS Team and hired a part-time outreach coordinator.
Partnerships: The Lifeblood of Sustained Impact
During the first months of the pandemic, MEEA looked to its partners to determine how we could be a “helper” during our community’s time of need. Together with 20 partnering organizations throughout the state, MEEA coordinated the curation, purchase, assembly, and distribution of 6300 outdoor learning kits for St. Louis area families accessing emergency food relief. These EE Kits are now available on the MEEA website and are suitable for a variety of groups, from families to school classes.
In 2020, as part of a Pisces grant, MEEA began collaborating with 4 other NAAEE state affiliates to form a regional partnership. The in-person gathering to jumpstart this process has been delayed due to the pandemic, but plans are in place for Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming to formalize the Plains Environmental Education Partnership in 2021.