It was bright, sunny and one of those rare 35 degree Michigan winter days. It had the makings of a great day, and a great day it was.

We had once again been invited by our friends at Kings Karate Harvesting Earth Educational Farm to do some hard manual labor but also have fun. Arriving in greenhouse number two we swept up hay and dirt before our host arrived. It was an easy, simple job, but surprisingly a very dusty one.

Photo: Charles Simon

Photo: Charles Simon

photo: Charles Simon

photo: Charles Simon

When we finished we were covered in dirt and hay filled-dust. We learned two things: we were not properly dressed and dust tastes horrible.

We completed our first task and soon after were greeted by University of Michigan-Flint students, who we quickly became friends with, and our host Dora King. It only took five minutes before Dora had us deep in dirt and snow. It was during this time that work turned into fun and fun turned into long lasting friendships.

The work done by seven Beecher High School students and nine UM-Flint students never did feel like work. We moved old gardening tools and utensils. We raked, tilled, and made months of old soil ready for planting. Some of us even shoveled snow.

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photo: Charles Simon

photo: Charles Simon

On a cold and cloudy Monday morning, twenty students from Beecher’s Ninth Grade Academy and five chaperones boarded a bus to the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) headquarters in Detroit, MI. These students, all ninth graders, took their first steps in becoming instruments of social change in the Beecher community. The bus drive was filled with teenage laughter, but also curious minds.

Through the University of Michigan-Flint University Outreach’s Discovering Place program, Beecher students have been beautifying their school grounds and becoming more environmentally active. With place-and-community-based education students are stepping away from traditional text-book instruction to become more socially involved in the Beecher community. Having had the opportunity to tackle social issues relative to their community, this was a trip to show them they are not alone in their endeavors and to think big even in small places.

When we arrived at EMEAC, we were greeted by Sonya Green or “Mama Sanaa” as she instructed us to call her. We followed her down hallways, through wide open rooms, and up several flights of stairs until we reached a small green, blue and yellow room. This storage room turned classroom, it was revealed to us, had never been used until now. These Beecher students had left their first mark.

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photo: Charles Simon

photo: Charles Simon

Snow underneath our boots and sneakers, gusty winds piercing through our layered clothing, and nineteen degree weather sounds intimidating to most. Not for nineteen Beecher Ninth Grade Academy students; it was their playground.

For several weeks these students had been exposed to various elements surrounding social and community engagement. King’s Karate Harvesting Earth Educational Farm was looking for young minds to assist in preparing their greenhouses for the winter season. These Discovering Place students, whom are sponsored by the University of Michigan – Flint Outreach office, heard the call and immediately took arms to help.

Inside greenhouse number two we were greeted by Master Dora King. We listened intently to instruction, and sipped on delicious homemade hot cocoa. With nineteen students and several adults we divided into three groups. Group one stayed inside to learn about compost and to spread it across the numerous vegetable gardens. Group two and three on the other hand were stationed outside.
These two groups braved the cold conditions to engage in: picking up trash, moving bundles of corn stalks, stacking wheel barrels, lumber and so much more. Master King’s husband, Grandmaster Jackie King, provided one impressive outside fire to warm up our bodies. It became evidently clear manual labor and cold weather was a non-issue.

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A celebration dinner and networking event will be held at University of Michigan- Flint’s University Center in the Happenings Room January 15 from 5:30 – 8 p.m.

Kendrick Jones, Department of Theatre and Dance and executive director of Shop Floor Theatre Company, will give a presentation about his experiences with place-based education. He will discuss the work he and the theatre company have done during 2013 to engage youth in civic dialogue about their community. SFTC has worked with Beecher 9GA, Project Citizen Youth Perspectives, Building Neighborhood Power! and the Genesee Valley Regional Center.

The presentation will be followed by a question and answer session.

Dinner will be provided. There will also be a Parks in Focus photography exhibit on display.

Please RSVP for the free event by January 9 at or email Leyla Sanker at

The event will be held in the Happenings Room at the Harding Mott University Center (400 Mill Street). Visit for driving directions.

The celebration dinner is hosted by University of Michigan-Flint University Outreach and was made possible by generous support from the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative.



As 2013 draws to a close, we are excited to announce the 2014 Discovering Place mini grant application: DP_mini grant application 2014

While most grants involve a competitive process, our grant process is designed not only to help support your projects as you get them off the ground, but to steep teams in the process of grant writing. Getting good at this vital skill means when you want to continue or expand your projects, you’ll have more options, since you’ll already be experienced in the grant-writing process.

Submission deadline is April 1, 2014.


It didn’t matter to Patty Hillaker that her science students went to an alternative high school, she wanted to give them hope and the best education possible.

Hillaker, an UM-Flint alumni, was inspired by the place-based education and grant writing training she received through the Discovering PLACE hub of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative to develop her own project for Beecher’s Riley Adult/Alternative Education Center. She called her program, Project E.a.r.t.h., which stands for Environmental awareness reaching teen homes.

Over several years, Hillaker was able to bring a series of projects and experiences to her students that taught them about their larger connections to the natural world.

This project consisted of planting raised gardens, an urban bird study, salmon in the classroom, bottle cap murals, school clean ups, clothing and book drives, and year-round recycling of batteries, paper, ink cartridges, glass and bottle caps.

In addition, Hillaker’s students did an audit of the school’s energy consumption and asked what they could do to cut energy costs.

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Want to find out more about place-based education?

Visit our Discovering PLACE website to view the PBE video series and other related resources, produced by University Outreach at the University of Michigan-Flint.

The series includes:

Principles of Place-Based Education,

Building School-Community Partnerships,

PBE and Sustainable Communities,

Designing Place-Based Education Projects,

Authentic Assesment of Student Achievement,

Working Outdoors with Students,

And Connecting PBE to Curriculum Standards.

Go to to watch the videos or learn how to earn SCECHs (formerly SB-CEUs) for completing the series.

M’lis Bartlett knew that if she wanted to create an outdoor learning space that students would actually use, she should just ask them what they would want to see.

So she began working with a ninth grade science class in February 2013 discussing environmental justice issues and ways to address them. Through a process of participatory design, they chose and began re-designing an under-utilized concrete space at the Beecher School District’s Ninth Grade Academy.

She spent ten weeks in the summer constructing an outdoor classroom space next to the school’s Moses Lacy Field House.

Bartlett asked the students to make models of the existing site and what their dream space would look like. Teachers also provided feedback. Students wanted the outdoor learning space to be used for eating lunch or hanging out before sport events. The class voted on each other’s ideas and then volunteers from University of Michigan’s Landscape Architecture program compiled those ideas into a final design.

The concrete was torn up in June and volunteers began recycling chunks of it for paver stones and inside s-shaped benches made from recycled urban Ash trees that were cut down because of Emerald Ash Borer infection. Permeable red gravel, colorful flowers, a water catchment barrel and an ADA accessible ramp were added to the site. There will be a free- standing arbor installed for shade by October. Four trees will also be planted on the space and Bartlett said an intern will work with teachers to effectively use the outdoor space and to design and plant a vegetable garden. The project was funded by the Ruth Mott Foundation and a University of Michigan Arts of Citizenship grant.

A lot of teenage space is criminalized in places like Flint or Beecher, Bartlett said. She said that Beecher students discussed how there were not many safe spaces in their community to hang out and so this was an opportunity to create one right on their school campus.

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The Next Generation Science Standards are currently being developed in collaboration between the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve with the aim of creating internationally-benchmarked, K-12 science curricula that will prepare students in all grades and across disciplines to pursue college and professional careers in the sciences.

The development of the Next Generation Science Standards is a two-step process that began with developing the Framework for K–12 Science Education, which is based on the most recent research on exemplary K-12 science curricula across grades and disciplines.

The second step in the process is marked by the development of the Next Generation Science Standards based on the Framework for K–12 Science Education. A key component of the development process is a multiple review process that encourages input from science education stakeholders, which will ensure that that the new standards reflect the very best science curricula that will prepare students for college and careers in the sciences.

The second public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards is currently available for public review. You can read the second public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards by topic or by Disciplinary Core Ideas according to the Framework for K-12 Science Education and provide feedback to developers by visiting the Next Generation Science Standards website.

The Placed-based education video series provides educators, community partners, and parents that are involved in the Discovering Place Place-based education (PBE) program access to online professional development workshops.

Michigan teachers can register – at no charge – to earn 0.4 State Board Continuing Education Units (SB-CEUs) for completing the series online, thanks to UM-Flint’s Office of Extended Learning.

The seven video series features David Sobel of the Center for Place-Based Education at Antioch New England Institute, and Jon Yoder from the Salem-Keizer School District and the Northwest Center for Sustainable Resources.  Sobel and Yoder are national consultants for the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, which sponsors the Discovering Place program and seven similar program hubs throughout Michigan.

The video series was made possible through a $20,000 grant by the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network and support from the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative.

Place-based education video series topics include:

1. Principles of Place-Based Education (PBE)

2. Building School-Community Partnerships

3. PBE and Sustainable Communities

4. Designing Place-Based Education Projects and Activities (2-part segment)
a. Designing PBE Projects through Community Mapping
b. Designing PBE Projects with Student Voice and Choice, and the Earth Force Process)

5. Authentic Assessment of Student Achievement

6. Working Outdoors with Students

7. Connecting PBE to Curriculum Standards

To view the PBE video series and related resources, or learn how to earn SB-CEUs for completing the series, go to or click on the link above.