The Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI) was launched in 2007 to develop knowledgeable and active stewards of the Great Lakes and their ecosystems through place-based studies and explorations in local communities. The initiative’s approach to teaching and learning results in vibrant, hands-on experiences that increase student achievement and help young Michigan residents become lifelong stewards of the environment.

The GLSI works toward its goals through nine regional hubs located around Michigan, each of which is led by experienced, qualified staff. The hubs offer professional development about content and pedagogy for both teachers and community partners, help organize and sustain school-community partnerships, and provide leadership for place-based education and environmental stewardship within their regions.

Stewardship of the Great Lakes

The GLSI was founded, in large part, on the premise that nurturing young stewards has never been more important than it is today. Noted author Jerry Dennis echoes this sentiment in his essay “Some Thoughts on the Next Generation of Stewards.”

The Great Lakes—Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior—form the largest system of fresh surface water on Earth. Covering more than 94,000 square miles, these lakes and their connecting waterways comprise about 90 percent of our nation’s fresh water supply. Their influence extends to every part of our state and beyond. The Great Lakes and their coastal habitats are central to our economy, influence our weather, provide recreational opportunities, and support a wide range of plants and animals.

Effective stewardship requires both knowledge and a will to act. Although the general public broadly supports environmental education, too many people lack knowledge about our region’s natural resources and the important ecological processes upon which we depend. And while many people want to improve their communities, opportunities to do so are not always obvious or easily accessible.

The GLSI works to change this by providing young people with real-world experiences that help them learn about and connect to the natural resources around them. We know the GLSI is working when classes of students and their teachers collaborate with local organizations to plan and conduct rigorous stewardship efforts. This work has a positive effect on students, schools, communities, and the environment.

The GLSI's Key Strategies

The hubs use grants and technical assistance provided by the GLSI to execute three key strategies through their work with teachers, students, and community organizations.

1. Place-based Education

Within the GLSI, place-based education (PBE):

  • Uses the local community and the environment as a starting point and important context for teaching and learning 
  • Emphasizes hands-on, inquiry-based, real-world experiences for all learners 
  • Involves collaboration among teachers, students, and community partners 

Schools in other states and communities have been using PBE for years as a feature of teaching and learning. The results of this approach have been measured and are exciting!

  • Students in classrooms where PBE is used achieve higher standardized test scores in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies; have improved overall grade point averages; and are awarded a higher-than-average number of scholarships.
  • Teachers in classrooms using PBE report that their students exhibit fewer discipline problems, better attendance, deeper civic engagement, and more responsible behavior in the school and the community. These positive outcomes mean that teachers have more time to teach, and students have more time to learn.
  • PBE also has a positive effect on communities and the environment as demonstrated by work in other areas of the United States.

All in all, PBE is an approach that has the potential to transform how we teach, how we learn, and how we connect and contribute to our place.

Since the GLSI’s inception in 2007, more than 80,000 students have been involved in local stewardship projects focused on important environmental issues and topics. In some cases, students not only actively take part in these projects, but also have a voice in the projects’ focus and design.

2. Sustained Professional Development

We know that powerful learning and skillful teaching go hand in hand. PBE requires teachers to have a deep understanding of both content and pedagogy, and to connect their teaching to the curricular goals of their school. The GLSI’s regional hubs work in the service of teachers, offering them ongoing professional development opportunities that reflect best practices in adult education. One important outcome of sustained professional development is a set of collegial relationships among teachers and between those teachers and other members of the community.

3. School-community Partnerships

The best partnerships are those that are mutually beneficial. Through the work of the GLSI, communities as a whole benefit and become more resilient because important local environmental needs and issues are addressed, in part, by people working together. Students benefit because they come to see themselves, and are viewed by others, as valuable assets to the community. Schools benefit because they are able to fulfill their goal of providing a more holistic education to children who come to understand the content being taught and also how to work with others to solve problems and accomplish goals. Community organizations benefit because they accomplish a part of their outreach mission while contributing significantly to the education of young people.