Beginning with a welcome address from executive director Geof Benson on September 14, the virtual festivities will continue at www.DunesLearningCenter.org/adunesaffair through September 20. Viewers can join in on their own schedules, from the comfort of their own homes.
While the format of this popular community networking event is quite different this year, the annual gala supporting Dunes Learning Center is more important than ever, according to Benson.
“Without the revenue from programs since March including summer camp and now the upcoming school year, Dunes Learning Center is working hard to survive and thrive this year,” he explained. “We are extremely grateful for the support of loyal donors and partners, including the school districts and teachers we work with throughout the year.”
When campus shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dunes Learning Center’s education team got busy reimagining environmental education.
Hitting the ground running, they introduced a new Distance Learning Collection with classroom websites for program participants, several original video series, activity pages, and links to other resources. Next, Nature Activity Time (NAT) kits and virtual summer camp experiences were delivered to campers at home.
For the 2020-21 school year, Dunes Learning Center is working on programs adaptable for in-person, remote learning, or a hybrid variation that will continue to connect grade-level science standards with the unique ecology of the Indiana Dunes until it is safe to resume in-person visits.
Likewise, along with Benson’s address, the virtual A Dunes Affair event will feature special guests throughout the week including Indiana Dunes National Park superintendent Paul Labovitz, Dunes Learning Center board president Zully Alvarado, and Green Apple award winner Linda Padilla.
Honored for excellence in environmental education, Padilla first brought students to Dunes Learning Center’s campus for the Frog in the Bog experience when she was a new elementary school teacher with the School City of East Chicago in 2004. Over the years, as her role grew to STEM teacher, assistant principal and now principal at Harrison Elementary, Padilla has been instrumental in connecting thousands of East Chicago students from K-12 with nature-based education programs. Grant funding from Foundations of East Chicago also helped make these experiences possible.
“My favorite thing is getting kids from an urban environment into nature, and the Indiana Dunes are so close,” Padilla said. “A lot of kids never get out in nature, and you see real changes in them when they do. They become stewards, taking the time to stop and realize there is nature in the urban environment.”
“Many have never seen the stars at night, so I blacked out the ceiling in my classroom for a unit on stars and constellations,” she continued. “When we were at Dunes Learning Center, one of my third grade students looked up and started crying. It was the first time he ever saw the stars, and he could name all the constellations. Those experiences are the reason I keep doing this. It’s so important for kids to see there’s more to life than just their neighborhood.”
To learn more about Padilla’s environmental education impact with Dunes Learning Center, including STEM leadership, monarch migration, and an outdoor learning garden, join A Dunes Affair at DunesLearningCenter.org/adunesaffair anytime beginning September 14.
To further honor Padilla, longtime Dunes Learning Center supporter BP America has pledged a matching contribution for the first $10,000 in donations to A Dunes Affair. Additional support for the event comes from Patrons 1st Source Bank and Purdue University Northwest, as well as Sponsors Cardno, Indiana American Water, Indiana University Northwest, and Journeyman Distillery. 2020 corporate sponsors include ArcelorMittal, BP America, Enbridge, Franklin Pest Solutions, Friends of Indiana Dunes, Grow With Trees, JF Pelkey Attorney at Law, Keramida, Lakeshore Public Media, Mark J. Mihalo Family Dentistry, NIPSCO, Pratt Industries, and Wickcraft Boardwalks
About Dunes Learning Center
With a mission to inspire lasting curiosity and stewardship with nature, Dunes Learning Center is the nonprofit education partner of Indiana Dunes National Park.
In a typical year, nearly 15,000 students of all ages from diverse communities and backgrounds participate in outdoor environmental learning and leadership experiences with Dunes Learning Center. School-year programs, summer camps, internships, and community education grow student connections with the outdoor world over time. Focused on the unique ecosystems of the Indiana Dunes, these nature-based experiences break down the barriers parents and teachers face in getting kids outdoors to explore and connect science with the real world.
Since 1998, more than 144,000 students have participated in an environmental education program with Dunes Learning Center. Visit DunesLearningCenter.org/adunesaffair to learn more.