February 15, 2021
Muddy Sneakers, a nonprofit that works with fifth-graders teaching hands-on science education in the outdoors, has moved its Piedmont office from downtown Salisbury to the Center for the Environment at Catawba College.
The13-year-old organization has an office in the North Carolina mountains as well as in the Piedmont. Currently, the organization reaches 2,000 fifth graders in 39 public schools in 19 counties. In Rowan County, Muddy Sneakers has worked with Isenberg, Mt. Ulla, Overton, West Rowan Elementary, Hurley, China Grove, Granite Quarry, Knollwood, Koontz, Cleveland, and Hanford Dole schools.
Dr. Jay Bolin is Chair of the Biology Department at Catawba College and Co-Chair of the Muddy Sneakers Piedmont Advisory Council. “Having a dynamic environmental educational non-profit such as Muddy Sneakers working in the Center for the Environment generates energy and enthusiasm among students who can see learn and see firsthand how environmentally focused non-profits operate,” he said.
“The Fred Stanback Jr. Ecological Preserve and the Center for the Environment are already field sites for Muddy Sneakers, where they bring fifth-grade students to use our living laboratory, and we only expect that relationship to grow,” he said. “This is an outstanding opportunity for our Environmental and Outdoor Education students and students in our traditional Education programs.”
Muddy Sneakers works with the public schools’ fifth-grade science curriculum standards and brings lessons to life in the outdoor classroom, engaging students to connect with the conserved natural areas in their communities. The program is designed to introduce environmental and scientific literacy at a critical development stage in order to build life-long bonds between students and the natural world.
Dr. David Nelson, President of Catawba, said that the college is pleased to welcome Muddy Sneakers to the campus. “Given the existing relationship between Muddy Sneakers and Catawba, this is a natural next step in promoting science education and care for the environment to young people throughout our community,” he said.
Cynthia Peedin, PNC Program Director of Muddy Sneakers, said, “Expanding the Muddy Sneakers program into the Piedmont region, and especially into Rowan County, has been a complete joy. Since we began here in 2016, we’ve been able to present science to students through the lens of a natural laboratory and make science relate to things they experience every day. We’ve built relationships with teachers and school administrators to better support their work in the classroom. We’ve also seen students continue to build, or even sometimes initiate, a connection to local lands that they may not have even realized were in their county.”
Ryan Olson, Executive Director, said, “Muddy Sneakers deeply values the many partnerships we have formed since arriving in Salisbury with the goal of serving multiple counties across the Piedmont region. Catawba College was one of our earliest connections and through ongoing work with Dr. Jay Bolin, the organization is thrilled to now strengthen that relationship with our recent relocation into the college’s Center for the Environment. We hope our two educational organizations can seek out additional collaboration as we look to expand our footprint in Rowan-Salisbury as well as neighboring school districts.”
In 2011, the organization received the Governor’s Outstanding Conservation Organization of the Year Award, given by the North Carolina Wildlife Association.
Muddy Sneakers was founded in 2007 in Brevard, Transylvania County. Five years ago, the Piedmont field office opened at 205 E. Council St., Salisbury, with a coverage area of Rowan, Davie, Stanly, Davidson, Randolph, Montgomery and Forsyth counties. Partners include Three Rivers Land Trust, Piedmont Land Conservancy, Catawba Land Conservancy, The Carolina Thread Trail, the Catawba Center for the Environment, Horizons Unlimited, Environmental Educators of North Carolina, the North Carolina Office of Environmental Education, and Stevenson Lab at N.C. State University. The organization is funded through grants and private/public contributions.
An ongoing partnership still today, N.C. State University launched a study in 2017 to analyze the impact of environmental education in the public schools and found improved end-of-grade test scores, an increase in aptitude among fifth graders, as well as benefits to classroom behavior and success.
For more information, visit muddysneakers.org or call (704) 209-4009.