Place-Based Education

We have a goal at Huron Pines to develop leaders in conservation, leaders of all ages and from all walks of life. The more people who understand and are involved in conservation, the better protected and vibrant our favorite places and communities will be. That’s why our staff and Huron Pines AmeriCorps members are helping people make connections to the outdoors statewide.

Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI)

With our Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative partners we lead place-based education experiences where students use hands-on learning to connect to careers, have fun and make a difference in their community. The Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative is committed to educating and empowering students to become environmental leaders and to build sustainable communities. Through place-based education efforts, students are able to learn about and explore the world right outside their classroom door. The NEMIGLSI network facilitates school-community partnerships, funds collaborative student-driven projects, provides training opportunities for students and teachers, and much more.

To learn more about the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, click here to visit their website.

Check out this great article about place-based education written by Meaghan Gass, Program Coordinator of NEMIGLSI and Huron Pines board member.


Au Gres-Sims School District 

Big Charity Island, located in Saginaw Bay, boasts a historic lighthouse, scenic shoreline and important habitat for many plants and animals, including the threatened Pitcher’s thistle and many migratory and colonial nesting birds. The Charity Islands are part of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and closed to the public in order to protect sensitive habitat and species. Unfortunately, invasive phragmites threatens to crowd out Pitcher’s thistle and is degrading shoreline habitat used by native birds, amphibians and reptiles. To address this issue, Huron Pines coordinated a series of meetings with a diverse network of partners and landowners to identify shared goals for protecting native species and their habitat. Huron Pines then developed a partnership agreement (LINK) and began treating invasive phragmites in 2015. A unique aspect of the project is participation of K-12 students from Au Gres-Sims School District, who visit the island each spring and fall to help inventory Pitcher’s thistle plants and do pre- and post-treatment monitoring of phragmites. This not only adds value to our restoration effort, but also provides local youth with place-based outdoor learning experience with a real-world application. Students are learning to identify plants, operate GPS technology, set up monitoring transects and collect scientific data in the field.

Contact: Watershed Project Manager Josh Leisen, (989) 448-2293 ext. 16

Vanderbilt Area School

Vanderbilt Area School (VAS) approached Huron Pines in 2016 about helping to improve their 110-acre school forest as a learning tool. In partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, VAS, Huron Pines staff and Huron Pines AmeriCorps members developed a Forest Stewardship Plan for the school to use as a guide for incorporating student learning with proper ecological management of the forest for the next decade. The VAS school forest is unique because, while every Michigan school has (or used to have) a school forest, many are not within walking distance of the school building. The VAS forest is directly behind the school playground and provides a great space for students to explore the natural world. In the fall of 2017, a trail was established to provide access to the forest for both students and community members to recreate and learn. Funding for this project was provided by the Dr. Patrick J. McNamara Fund of the Otsego County Community Foundation, the Youth Fund of the Otsego County Community Foundation and Otsego County United Way. The trail was built with the help of Huron Pines AmeriCorps members, Vanderbilt students, staff and residents plus in-kind support from M&M Excavating and Bunker and Sons Sawmill. 

The school forest is part of a larger effort by the school to improve student performance; which includes an effort to implement place-based education programming across all subjects and grades. The high school outdoor science class collected tree species and age data that was incorporated into the Forest Stewardship Plan. Kindergarten through 6th graders learned about single-use plastics and the impact on the Great Lakes as part of the Earth Day Bag Project; the project included the students decorating bags with conservation messages that were used at the local grocery store on Earth Day. The K-6 classes also learned about the biodiversity of their school forest through a Schoolyard BioBlitz exploring and recording the plant and animal life they found on site. A school forest classroom is being developed with the help of 9-12 grade students who assessed student and teacher needs, developed a plan for the classroom design and began construction on seating and other elements. 

Vanderbilt Area School in the news:
Backyard beauty: Vanderbilt to showcase school forest
Vanderbilt students assist with skipping plastic this Earth Day
School forests provide valuable legacy of learning
National Geographic BioBlitz
Vernal Pool Patrol Project-NEMIGLSI

For more information about this ongoing initiative, contact Huron Pines Environmental Educator, Emily Vogelgesang at  

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The MDNR offers a wide collection of wildlife programs and presentations for classrooms and groups. Their classroom programs include:

  • Go Wild for Michigan’s Wildlife (Kindergarten-5th grade)
  • A Year in the Life of a Michigan Black Bear (6th-8th grade)
  • Elk University (9th-12th grade)

The MDNR also offers wildlife resources for teachers, including lesson plans, citizen science projects and more, all available on their website.


Wheels to Woods

Struggling to find funds to cover transportation costs for a field trip to the nearby forest? Wheels to Woods is here to change that! This program provides funding to PreK-12 schools and other youth groups to pay for the transportation costs of an educational field trip to nearby forests.

Click here to go to their website and learn more about the application and program.