Welcome to the experiential world of Muddy Sneakers!
In 2012-13, we will begin our fifth year of bringing an experiential format to teaching 5th grade science curriculum at participating public schools across western North Carolina. Muddy Sneakers began as pilot program in the spring of 2007 with Brevard and Pisgah Forest Elementary Schools in Transylvania County and has grown to each year. We now work with 15 schools in four counties and five school districts across the region. We currently serve a diverse cross-section of students from Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and McDowell Counties and are pursuing regional expansion opportunities.
Muddy Sneakers has developed an extraordinarily cost-effective, results-driven model for learning by engaging children through the natural world. Here are just a few reasons why we are unique:
- Continuous exposure to the outdoor classroom (up to 10 days over the course of the academic year) through utilizing a diverse portfolio of natural areas in close proximity to the school
- Strong commitment to partnering with teachers and administrators
- Small group focus (maximum of 12 students per instructor)
- Emphasis on establishing and refining a model of excellence that produces measurable results
We see ourselves as a ‘gateway’ program that seeks to introduce the concept of environmental literacy into the public schools at a critical developmental stage. Beyond enhanced scholastic achievement, the aim of Muddy Sneakers is to build life-long bonds between the students we work with and the natural world.
Community support has been significant since our inception and Muddy Sneakers has a goal of seeing 30% of its programming cost raised within the communities where we work. In May 2012, Muddy Sneakers introduced a membership opportunity titled the Muddy Sneakers ‘Community Sponsor’ program. Our new sponsors will help build sustainable support and allow us to increase our presence in western NC program area schools from 25% to 50% in the next five years. Every sponsorship dollar raised goes directly toward funding a child’s participation in the Muddy Sneakers program. For more information on how to become a Muddy Sneakers Community Sponsor, view our Become a Sponsor page.
Join in the movement to reconnect children and nature! You are enthusiastically invited to become a program volunteer, a parent-in-the-field, a liaison in building new school partnerships and/or a donor/sponsor who can make an immediate difference with a tax-deductible contribution. Muddy Sneakers is generously supported by its own board and staff, philanthropic organizations and donations/sponsorships from people like you.
History[back to top]
The original idea behind Muddy Sneakers came to life out of the imagination and experience of Sandy Schenck, owner of the summer camp Green River Preserve near Brevard, North Carolina.
Sandy had witnessed, summer after summer, the invigorating effects of the outdoors on young people, as well as the importance of passed-down stories that define a sense of place, community and relationship to the land. In his concept, a non-profit organization would work to merge active outdoor experiential learning with traditional studies in public schools, beginning in Western North Carolina.
To that end, Muddy Sneakers formed an initial Board of Directors in the fall of 2007. John Huie, former director of the North Carolina Outward Bound School and Environmental Leadership Center of Warren Wilson College, signed on as Executive Director. Chuck McGrady, camp owner and former national chairman of the Sierra Club, became the first board chair. Writer Jay Fields worked to conceptualize how Muddy Sneakers would actually look, function and make a difference.
With the help of long-time educator, Transylvania County Principal and Board Member David Williams, board members and staff began developing a curriculum aimed at enriching North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study.
In the spring of 2008, under the leadership of Program Director Lauren Agrella, an experienced outdoor educator, Muddy Sneakers partnered with Pisgah Forest and Brevard Elementary schools to run day-long pilot expeditions into forested areas near students’ schools. During our pilot program, DuPont State Recreational Forest, with its rock domes, creeks and waterfalls, became a main staging area for learning expeditions led by our seasoned instructors. Since then, we have come to utilize National and State Forests, National and State Parks, City and County lands as well as privately protected properties across western North Carolina. Following the pilot semester, word spread and interest in the program quickly expanded beyond Transylvania County. In only a few short years, Muddy Sneakers was operating in five school districts across four western North Carolina counties (Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe and McDowell).
In 2011, program success and growing recognition culminated in Muddy Sneakers being awarded the NC Governor’s Award for Outstanding Conservation Organization of the Year, as presented by the NC Wildlife Federation. Later that year, Muddy Sneakers was the featured environmental education organization in an episode of UNC-TV’s Exploring North Carolina titled ‘Nature’s Classroom’. Increased exposure drove a surge of interest in the program and communities have since reached out to the organization asking how they might start their own Muddy Sneakers Chapter.
In four short years, Muddy Sneakers has grown to service 15 schools and over 1,000 students across a four-county program area with new schools being added each year. In January 2012, Ryan Olson took over as Executive Director after having spent almost four years previously working as the Assistant Director of Land Protection with the SC Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. With an eye towards further refining and progressing the excellent Muddy Sneakers model, Ryan’s goals also include building financial relationships that will ensure long-term organizational sustainability and developing a growth model that will allow the organization to consider opportunities for expansion. Currently, Muddy Sneakers is moving forward with support for pilot programs in Charleston and Greenville Counties, SC with the hope of having both established by spring/fall 2013.
How We Are Funded[back to top]
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Muddy Sneakers has generously received funding support in the past by its own board and staff, friends and allies (who support the philosophies behind the “No Child Left Inside” movement), matching grants and foundational grants. We are currently seeking corporate sponsorship that would allow the program to grow beyond its current regional focus in order to reach more communities around the southeast and beyond. Muddy Sneakers’ program cost, which does not account for general overhead, is funded through a three-part cost share formula split evenly between the schools, Muddy Sneakers and the communities where we work. Each contributor is tasked with raising its own 1/3 share and currently Muddy Sneakers is developing strategies to better develop consistent, annual community funding in the areas where we currently work. The cost for one child to participate in the basic 6-expedition format is approximately $25 per day or $150 per year. That cost is split three ways using the above formula with the resulting cost to the school being $8 per student, per day. As a Community Sponsor, $50 will sponsor the community portion needed to send a single child through Muddy Sneakers for an entire year!
Values[back to top]
The Muddy Sneakers program aims to embody many values in how we relate to one another and to the world around us.
In relationships between instructors and students, between students and students, and between Muddy Sneakers and the broader world, three values hold sway:
(For yourself, for others and for all living things)
(From understanding our connections to and gifts from nature)
(Born out of unbargaining service to others)
Field Instructor Values
Central pillars of instruction:
(Of self, others and surroundings)
(Strong, clear and compassionate)
(In seizing the instinctual opportunities of the moment)
Vision[back to top]
Our vision is to bring elementary public school students into natural areas, in close proximity to where they live, in order to teach them science curriculum using experiential methods while introducing them to the wonders of the natural world. Merging the energy of young students with the energy of these outdoor places sets the stage for deeply felt experiences that instill a “backyard” awareness to the Standard Course of Study. Our vision is to create in children a life-long love of nature and to do this in a way that enhances academic achievement, inspires the joy of living, and plants an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things.