Community Ecology Institute: Nature-Based Learning, People-Planet Connections

Roots & Wings Learning Community Roots & Wings provides supplemental experiential education for home-schooled children so they can nurture a deep connection to self, community and the environment. The programming emphasizes cre - ativity, social and emotional learning, and nature-based exploration. Roots & Wings works by offering a flexible, yet consistent educational community for mixed age groups of students. Our holistic curriculum encourages personal connection to topics supporting the student’s well-being, and fosters clarity around a student’s educational joys and a life-long love of learning. The Roots & Wings program launched in 2018 and initially oper - ated as a two-day-per-week program for elementary-aged students. Now operating four-days-per-week exclusively at Freetown Farm, it has expanded successfully over the last 4 years to support more fam- ilies, including with an “upper” level program to serve the children that are growing up with this innovative educational community and are now ages 11 to 13. Currently we are exploring ways to incorporate an element for high school-aged children for the fall of 2023 as our students continue to grow with the program. A parent said, “Roots & Wings provides an outdoor learning oppor- tunity where kids can connect with nature and apply math, biology, physical education, problem solving, communications, reading com- prehension, nutrition, and more. This is an ideal educational setting — my child loves Roots & Wings.” Another family said, “This program has truly changed the lives of my kids. We’ve tried public, private, co- op, and all-at-home. Roots and Wings is the first program where they seem genuinely excited about their learning and have been nurtured as whole people.”


Envision a world where communities are healthy, resilient, abun- dant and rooted in regenerative relationships that honor the inherent interdependence between people and the ecosystems of which we are all a part. At the Community Ecology Institute (CEI), we are bringing those visions to life. Founded in 2016, CEI is a Maryland non-profit organization whose mission is to cultivate communities where people and nature thrive together. We focus on tangible, community-level change at the intersection of environment, education, equity, and health. We show- case and teach evidence-based best practices in these areas that are specifically responsive to our area’s natural and social ecosystems. In 2018, CEI was given the opportunity to purchase the last work - ing farm in Columbia. With the support of numerous community col- laborators, we raised the resources needed to purchase, and therefore protect, this 6.4-acre organic farm, in June of 2019. In the past three and a half years, most of which has been under Covid, we have worked diligently to transform the property into an inviting place where com- munity members can learn through hands-on experience about ways to lead happier, healthier, more connected and sustainable lives. As the stewards of this land, now known as Freetown Farm , CEI has significantly expanded both the type of programs we offer and the populations we serve. CEI offers significant farm-based benefits to the community, such as service-learning opportunities, the provision of plants and pro- duce, and innovative workshops. However, the core of our experien- tial education lies in four immersive programs intentionally designed to serve a diverse, intergenerational audience. These programs are based primarily at our Freetown Farm location; some will be expand- ing to our brand new Green Farmacy Garden location in 2023. Community of Families in Nature (CFIN) The mission of CFIN, CEI’s original program, is to provide fre - quent, fun and friendly nature-based experiential education the en- tire family — children of all ages and their caregivers — can enjoy. By connecting families with nearby nature, CFIN activities foster great- er connection between the natural world and the community. Doing so increases environmental awareness and action, and supports the well-being of participants, including strengthening family relation- ships. CFIN began in 2014 (prior to the creation of our non-profit) as Columbia Families in Nature. As of the end of 2022, we’ve held more than 325 events that served more than 760 families who collectively have enjoyed more than 27,000 hours of time exploring and learn - ing in nature. In 2022, our eighth year, we offered a wide range of family-oriented events, from camping trips and guided hikes, to na- tive tree plantings, nature scavenger hunts and art projects, garden stewardship, and more. CFIN program participants shared: “With kids ages 8, 5 and 3, it’s hard to find something that our family can all do together that’s stimulating, meaningful, and that builds con - nection between us and the environment. Planting the pollinator gar- dens was perfect!” and “My kindergartener had the opportunity to be immersed in child-led play for hours, which she doesn’t get during the school week. CFIN outings awaken her creativity and allow her to de-stress and be a kid.”

Freetown Farm

Green SEEDS In the fall of 2020, CEI introduced what is now known as our Green SEEDS (service, experiential education, & design for sustainability) student internship program. The internships provide experiential education and community engagement experience for high school and college students across a range of intersectional socio-ecological themes through its two tracks: the first is for high-school students in Howard County, and the second is for college students.

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PATHWAYS—Spring 23—9

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