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Talawanda-GreenSTEMS partnership



Starting a nonprofit is difficult. The most important part of an organization are the connections between people. GreenSTEMS was founded upon the idea that it is the village, the society (that is what the ‘s’ on the end stands for), that helps create a sustainable environment, supporting healthy bodies and healthy minds. One of the most important partnerships in the works is with Talawanda schools. Oxford, Ohio is the birthplace of GreenSTEMS and the Talawanda district is its backyard.

Talawanda schools is in the process of a multi-year refurbishment and new build of all its schools. The district serves about 2,000 students at its 3 Elementary, 1 Middle and 1 High School. Oxford, the home of Miami University, seems like the perfect place to build University-Community partnerships; however, the town and gown separation really couldn’t be more pronounced. While there are several bright spots, long-term trust is lacking. And, rightly so. University professors with successful, big ideas come and go in this small town, typically in search of the bigger bright lights of larger cities. Years of this can take its toll, and ‘townies’ toggle when approached with another big idea.

Therefore, GreenSTEMS is taking the slow and steady approach to partnerships in both Talawanda and Cincinnati. Partnerships grow from mutually identified goals and vision. Schools have incessant novel initiatives. As a former teacher in multiple public schools, I speak from experience. What is needed more often are initiatives rooted in student interests and strengths, and grounded in teacher ingenuity, visionary principal leadership, and mission driven district administration. Financial support is needed. This comes in the form of internal community boards and external state, federal, and foundation sources. To piece all of this together takes a persistent and patient puzzle maker.

Recently, Jared (GreenSTEMS’ grant manager & general supporter) and myself were led on a tour of part of the 90+ acre land lab, founded several years ago, after the construction of the new Talawanda High School. Adriane Ruther, Botany & Biology teacher AND Sustainability Initiatives Director, has students at heart and big ideas. We are lucky enough to be able to help Adriane plan and achieve the small steps (learned from Jim Reddig) that will help us both achieve our goals. While this was an initial meeting, it was a very positive move in building a partnership that serves the long-term interests of the community and provides experiential STEM learning opportunities for all students. Like our journey of discovery meandering the land lab, this partnership is exciting, and there are a variety of opportunities to explore. We look forward to taking this path together.