EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP  ̶  The Egg Harbor Township School District will kick off its new Community Day program 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, by building an outdoor classroom and school garden at Slaybaugh Elementary School.

The community is invited to help with the project, which is intended to put the natural world at students’ fingertips while connecting schools, families, businesses and the community for youth success.

While the first Community Day will focus on creating the outdoor learning lab for elementary school children, district organizers are already looking ahead to new and different Community Day projects for the future.

In addition to helping students develop learn-by-doing skills, the program will also encourage community and business participants to share best practices for achieving the greatest environmental, economic, social, civic and academic impact, according to a district news release.

The hands-on learning concepts developed by teachers have traditionally leaned toward environmental projects because of the township’s history of unprecedented growth.

After being designated as a Regional Growth Area by the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, Egg Harbor Township experienced a 41 percent increase in population between 2000-2010, growing from 30,726 to 43,323 and adding approximately 400 new students every year during that time period.

In an effort to teach students about the township’s farming heritage and the effects of overpopulation, teachers have been applying classroom learning to real-life problems for the past 15 years.

Local efforts have secured approximately $150,000 in environmental grants and partnerships from local and national organizations to promote sustainability, improve teacher effectiveness, boost student interest and engagement. The goal is to help students see the connection between what they are learning in the classroom and community needs.

Supporters of the Community Day program include Eco-Schools USA, National Wildlife Federation, Bennett Chevrolet (GM), and EHT Education Foundation’s Pride program grant.

The goal of the General Motors, National Wildlife Federation and Eco-Schools USA partnership is to develop a global network of school communities that are working toward a healthy and sustainable future. The focus is on preparing students for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) careers while making a positive contribution within their communities.

Volunteers who planning to help on Saturday are encouraged to bring their garden tools. Contact Ellen Gregory at 609-646-8441, ext. 1017 or via email to gregorye@eht.k12.nj.us.

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