Oh, how time flies! It seems like yesterday that we were filling out an application for the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) Grow grant to grow the Thames Talbot Land Trust’s (TTLT) Schools Program. The goal was to teach youth about ecosystem restoration and provide hands-on experiences to improve local natural areas (i.e TTLT nature reserves) and empower students to make a difference in their communities. June 2021 marks the third and final year of the OTF Grow grant, so we thought it would be a good time to reflect on all that the students have accomplished and what this means for TTLT’s Schools Program moving forward.
With the generous funding from OTF, we were able to engage 1086 students in ecological restoration at seven TTLT nature reserves, exceeding our targets of 900 students and six TTLT nature reserves. Students from Middlesex, Elgin, Oxford, and Perth counties and the City of London participated in programming involving invasive species management, native plant restoration, species at risk, plant identification, seed collecting/processing, and forest health. Restoration activities resulted in 2500+ native plants planted (most of which were grown from seed), 40+ bags of Garlic Mustard removed, conservation actions for Eastern Flowering Dogwood and American Chestnut trees (both species-at-risk), among others.
Through the evaluation data we collected over the course of the OTF Grow grant, we were able to determine that the Schools Program had a positive impact on student attitudes and knowledge, as well as a positive impact on TTLT nature reserves. Feedback from both teachers was invaluable to helping us improve curriculum links and program delivery over the three years of the grant.
The COVID-19 pandemic created many challenges, but it also pushed us to find new ways to improve the delivery of the programming. We now have resources available for in-person, virtual, and hybrid delivery formats for classes who wish to participate, and will be opening the Schools Program to individuals and groups outside of the institutionalized school setting (e.g. Scouts/Girl Guides, homeschooled youth, 4H clubs, etc.).
As the OTF Grow grant comes to a close, we would like to extend our deepest gratitude to OTF for their invaluable contribution in making the Schools Program the success that it is today. The Schools Program is an important part of community engagement that we do here at TTLT. We will continue to provide it to the Schools Program to the community and empower our youth to make a difference.
Thank you Ontario Trillium Foundation!