Mesabi East Environmental Education Center Wins Innovation Award

Mesabi East Environmental Education Center (ME3C) started as a program for special education students to explore hands-on plant science. Since its inception in 2018, ME3C has evolved into a student-centered program that places emphasis on hands-on instruction and sustainability for grades Pre-K through 12. Through ME3C, students begin to find career pathways by exploring all aspects of a complete greenhouse and floral business.

The purpose of ME3C is to teach students a variety of maintaining their own food security methods through traditional, hydroponic, and hugelkultur, and a food forest. Students are taught how to grow, preserve and cook their own food through multiple classes. Cross-team teaching also allows for Culinary Arts, Graphic Arts, Industrial Technology, and business classes to experience hands-on applications in their coursework.

ME3C allows for students to also establish a sense of belonging in their community when engaged in activities such as the summer and holiday Farmer Market, Assisted Living and Nursing Home activities, and peer to peer education.

Before ME3C started, the community greenhouse was on the verge of being a lost business, and the community had just lost their grocery store, dentist, and pharmacy. The school district had passed a referendum for a new greenhouse to be added to the school. This was the beginning of building a sustainability program. Instead of building a new facility the school district purchased the existing business which houses 5 greenhouses, 1+ acre of green space and floral shop space that was converted into an educational space for students and community education.

The program now instructs students in Pre-K through 12 in Farm2School, hosts a Agriprenuer Internship Program, Age to age Fellowship, a large spring bedding plant sale, holiday and formal floral sales, community education and garden programming, and farmers markets. Produce that is grown at ME3C is brought into the cafeteria and sold at the farmers market and local businesses.

ME3C offers all Mesabi East students the ability to gain hands-on education in Horticulture, Business, Graphic and Visual Arts, Industrial Technology, Culinary Arts, through a variety of cross applications and co-teaching and learning opportunities.

Students with behavioral or learning disabilities are encouraged to seek their strengths and find new learning opportunities. ME3C is a place for students to be successful in their learning when it may not be in the classroom setting. Many students state that they are better prepared to continue with their day when they are actively engaged in hands-on learning.

The past two local Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA) found that ME3C provides for not only an increase in food security, but also mental health benefits for all ages. In the most recent CHNA, it found that 28% of Mesabi East eighth grade students think that the community cares a little or not at all about them. ME3C is combatting this number with intergenerational
programming that connects Mesabi East high school students with older adults in the community.

ME3C leader, Rachel Doherty says schools can replicate the program by thinking outside the box to achieve educational values in non-traditional ways. And, by allowing staff to make connections and build relationships with businesses and resources in the community to bring forward a more robust program and gain funding and support resources.

Mesabi East School, thank you for investing in your students and developing innovative ways to serve.

Mesabi East School District was honored with an Innovation Program Award on November 13 as part of MREA’s Greater Education Summit in Brainerd, Minnesota.