Environmental education and faith formation

Written by Natalie McElwee and Lauri SoJourner and originally published in VTS's blog Key Resources.

The Gravatt Environmental Education Program (GEEP) is one way Gravatt fulfills its environmental mission. For the past five years, GEEP has existed to increase awareness, knowledge and appreciation of South Carolina natural resources.

“We wanted to practice what we preach with the environment, and we thought one thing that’s been the best about Gravatt since day one has been the natural resources and environment,” Program Director Thomas Coleman said. “So it only made sense for us to highlight that through education.”

Activities include guided nature hikes, canoeing, challenge courses, fishing, map and compass use, outdoor living and survival skills, camping, owl pellet hunting and dissection, camp fire building, and bird house/feeder construction.

Summer campers participate in GEEP twice a week. The past few years, the focus has been on garden education, chickens, goats, nature hikes, aquatic insects, forestry, prescribed fires, ecosystems, owl pellets, and snakes.

GEEP is an integral part of Gravatt’s faith formation program at summer camp as well. Campers learn through their experiences that we are stewards of the gifts God has given us, not the least of which is the Earth. Through understanding and appreciation of the gifts of water, animals, plants, and foods, campers take responsibility for the keeping and care of creation.

Farm Intern Winston Collins works closely with the GEEP program and sees the benefits firsthand. “They benefit by learning how different plants grow or how different things work,” Collins said. “It’s important for them to understand how much work goes into what they eat. That’s something special they can take home with them. Kids are really excited about this program. It’s some of our kids’ favorite part of camp.”

GEEP’s unique approach to outdoor education continues to grow and bring in new faces. Plans for the future include designing a curriculum that fits in with South Carolina state standards to fit in with children’s cross-curricular activities.

“Because GEEP is so hands on, it makes it unique,” Coleman said. “We’re not teaching about lions in Africa, we’re teaching about woodpeckers at Gravatt. We’re in the actual place. We also know exactly where things started. There is a lot of history behind a lot of things we do that gets tied in. We try to make it relevant to the big picture of the world.”