The Transylvania Times -

Funding Will Help Muddy Sneakers Expand - Brevard NC


Muddy Sneakers, the science education program, has been awarded $500,000 as part of the recently approved state budget.

The money will allow the organization to expand its experiential education work to more state public schools to test both field office capacity in Western North Carolina and the program’s portability overall.

“The program was designed to be portable, and it has been the organization’s goal to test the concept in other regions of the state since the very beginning,” said Ryan Olson, Muddy Sneakers’ executive director. “Now, with the support of the N.C. legislature, we are excited to take that first step in moving east from our home region in Western North Carolina.”

Olson added that the program focuses on public school fifth graders (ages 10-12) for the students’ strong sense of wonder, increased physical capabilities and intellectual capacity to connect more complex scientific concepts.

“For many students served, Muddy Sneakers provides their first substantial nature experience and the only opportunity they have had to spend extended hours outside with knowledgeable naturalists,” Olson said.

The organization began as a pilot program in the spring of 2007 with Brevard and Pisgah Forest elementary schools. The fiscal year 2016-17 marks the ninth programming season.

In the fall, Muddy Sneakers expects to serve approximately 25 schools and 1,600 students in Western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina.

The expansion will bring North Carolina’s enrollment to approximately 2,600 students. Additional development in South Carolina as part of a separate pilot program will bring Muddy Sneakers’ total reach to approximately 3,000 students.

Specifically, the appropriation will allow Muddy Sneakers to add 300 students in existing and new Western North Carolina school districts as well as open a second field office in the Piedmont region by January 2017. The Piedmont field office will include new administrative and programming positions, such as a full-time program director and assistant program director and also some part-time field instructor positions.

According to Olson, Muddy Sneakers will be working closely with the Department of Public Instruction to narrow down the current region and school district candidates to a program area of likely no more than four counties and initially 1,000 students.

The organization in its growth will continue to prioritize the use of protected private and public lands and will work closely with its local, state and federal land agency partners as well as land trusts across North Carolina.

Muddy Sneakers is also in the middle of a two-year research project with North Carolina State University, where a team of scholars is studying the program to create one of the nation’s first elementary-specific environmental literacy measurement tools. The tool will be administered for the first time next school year to all participating fifth-grade students and their teachers.

“Muddy Sneakers prides itself on being a science program that seeks to serve the needs of the students and the goals of the schools while remaining wholly unique in the field of current experiential education programming,” Olson said.


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