name on beach

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative (GTSI) provides leadership and resources to support  place-based education, school-community partnerships, and sustained professional development for teachers. Since 2010, 89 teachers, 113 community partners, and 5,000 students have collaborated on place-based projects. The GTSI is one of nine Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI) hubs located throughout Michigan and is hosted by the Inland Seas Education Association.

Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative (GTSI) can trace its origins to the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute at Northwestern Michigan College. In 2004, a professional development initiative began, first as RIPPLE and later as the DTE Freshwater Institute for Teachers. The goal was to help teachers launch place-based education in K-12 classrooms as a strategy to inspire lifelong stewardship of freshwater.

In 2007, inspired by these efforts in the Grand Traverse region, the Great Lakes Fishery Trust (GLFT) established and funded a state-wide initiative called the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI) with the mission of providing educators with the training and experience needed to help Michigan’s young people gain knowledge about the Great Lakes watershed, and become future stewards of the environment.

The GLSI’s infrastructure is made up of nine regional “hubs” in Michigan who provide leadership, expertise, and support for the GLSI’s three key strategies: Place-based educationschool-community partnerships, and sustained professional development for teachers.

In 2009, the GLFT provided funds to establish the Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative. Due to its shared belief in the GTSI’s three key strategies, Inland Seas Education Association became the new host of the GTSI in 2016 and is proud to be investing extensively to foster a bright future for GTSI and the communities it impacts.

Our Focus

Professional Development for Teachers

Place-Based Education (PBE)

School-Community Partnerships

Continued Professional Development for Teachers

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative services teachers by offering ongoing, relevant professional development (PD) sessions presented by community partners who offer expertise in a variety of disciplines. The PD sessions encourage educators to teach content standards in a regional context, using place-based education to expand the walls of their classroom out into the community.

During scheduled extended planning time we help teams of teachers use current curriculum standards to craft interdisciplinary activities that will ensure successful academic and community service outcomes for their students. Sustained professional development and adequate planning time also supports a collegial learning community among teachers, and between teachers and community partners, that strengthens school-community relationships and thus, the health of the entire community.

Teachers participating in the GTSI make a commitment to attend an intensive Summer Institute and four professional development sessions during the school year. They also participate in four extended planning sessions and a Dinner & Dialogue, which brings together teachers and community partners for an evening of collaboration. Teachers present their project plans and are given important feedback, suggestions, and assistance so they can expand the impact of their stewardship projects for students and the community.

For the 2019-20 school year, the GTSI has committed to:

  • Providing mini-grants for teachers to implement place- based education projects with their students
  • Hosting educator sails for GTSI teachers aboard Inland Seas
  • Providing workshops on the Fundamentals of Place-based education
  • Implementing community connections workshops that provide a forum for networking and collaboration with community partners

Place-Based Education (PBE)

The Power of Place-Based Education

“In college, Professor Burton V. Barnes took our Woody Plants class on a field trip to Northern Michigan where aspen flourished, and challenged teams of students to dig up the longest aspen root. We certainly could have learned about aspen colonies from a textbook, but that could not compare to the experience of digging trenches in an aspen colony all day, and measuring the incredible lengths of root that they had all spouted from.” – Jenifer Strauss, Story Be Told Productions

What Does PBE Do?

  • Place-Based Education encourages teachers to use the local community as their classroom; to immerse students in the unique environment, history, culture and economy of the place where they live, and then use these learning experiences to form the foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum.
  • Place-Based Education emphasizes hands-on, inquiry-based, real-world experiences that involve direct collaboration with community partners who identify needs, share expertise, and enrich the teaching and learning experience by providing support in the form of time and resources.
  • Place-based education provides meaningful and impactful learning experiences, a healthy and supportive school culture, sustainable partnerships between schools and communities, a greater appreciation of the environment, and more frequent and effective acts of stewardship.

The overarching goals of place-based education are:

  • Student Achievement
  • Environmental Protection and Stewardship
  • Community Vitality

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative supports teachers and students as they explore and learn to care for the world around them. By planning and implementing place-based stewardship projects, students, teachers and community partners are training the next generation of leaders and informed environmental stewards.

School-Community Partnerships

Successful School-Community Partnerships
Community partners play an important role in the success of place-based education by helping young people make vital, authentic connections to their community, and working with schools to help create an engaged, eco-literate citizenry.

Below is a list of descriptors that characterize strong school-community partnerships:

  • Schools, teachers, and students benefit from the collaboration by gaining new knowledge, increasing their awareness of the natural environment, and having access to community resources like expertise, facilities, natural sites, and financial support.
  • The collaboration helps the community partners to achieve their mission or goals.
  • Community partners are directly involved in the planning and implementation of the project.
  • There is regular and productive communication between teachers and partners by phone, email, and in person.
  • The roles and expectations for community partners and the teachers/schools/students are understood by everyone.
  • Community partners share their subject-matter expertise with teachers and students.
  • Community partners are formally recognized for their contributions to the partnership.

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative is fortunate to have a growing list of over 60 community partners committed to helping students and teachers identify community problems or needs, and assisting them in the planning and implementation of their project goals.

Our Partners

Our Partners

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative (GTSI) is incredibly fortunate to partner with so many great organizations in our effort to protect water, expand classrooms and strengthen communities. School-community partnerships are a key component of the GTSI, as we bring educators together with non-profit organizations, businesses, government agencies and citizen groups that are interested in stewardship of freshwater in the Grand Traverse region.

If you are a teacher trying to figure out what community partner is the right fit or just want to learn more about each of them, click the partner name below to visit their website to learn more.



Fred Sitkins, ISEA Executive Director

Phone: 231-271-3077


The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative is housed at Inland Seas Education Association. Our mailing address is: 100 Dame St. #218 Suttons Bay, MI 49682 



The demands on teachers are extensive, exhausting, and ever-changing. We get it. We also get why teachers do what they do, and GTSI is here to help improve the experiences of teachers and their students.

So why should teachers become involved in GTSI? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Sustained professional development – The GTSI Coordinator collaborates with partners, administrators, non-traditional educators and PBE experts to offer a diverse menu of professional development sessions that cater to teachers’ needs. For the 2019-20 school year, the GTSI has committed to:
    • Providing mini-grants for at least 16 teachers to implement place- based education projects with their students
    • Hosting 2 educator sails for GTSI teachers aboard Inland Seas
    • Providing 2 workshops on the fundamentals of place-based education
    • Implementing 3 community connections workshops that provide a forum for networking and collaboration with community partners
  • Place-Based Education – The benefits to utilizing PBE with your classroom are numerous – check out our PBE page to read more. The students and teachers reap the benefits of more engaging learning opportunities and the local community benefits from the outcomes of school- partner relationships and a next generation of stewards that are more invested in ‘place.’
  • Community Partner Relationships – Community partners can serve as a wonderful resource to educators, providing teachers with greater background knowledge on specific content, engaging directly with students to share information, and involving classrooms in hands-on projects that produce visible outcomes. GTSI’s role is to provide resources and assistance to time-limited teachers to help nurture those valuable relationships with community partners.
  • Access To Resources – GTSI does the hard work of tracking down resources to make them easily available to teachers. Funding for classroom projects, community partners open to collaborating, curriculum and classroom activities, professional development … the resources we collect for teachers are as varied as the teachers’ needs.
  • One-On-One Assistance – The GTSI Coordinator is available to work one-on-one with individuals and teams of teachers to provide guidance on project implementation, community partner engagement, PBE and project-related curriculum for in-class implementation and funding.

Click here to read about examples of place-based learning that have been implemented in classrooms across Michigan. 

Are you intrigued by the idea of becoming a GTSI teacher? Fill out an inquiry form by clicking here

Learn how K-12 teachers in the Grand Traverse region can become involved in the GTSI.


Become a Community Partner

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative (GTSI) brings together a diverse group of businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and citizen groups who are all interested in helping young people learn about and care for freshwater ecosystems in the Grand Traverse region. Community partners provide knowledge and resources to GTSI school teams as they plan and implement their place-based education projects.

Partners help identify water-related needs in the community that students and teachers may choose to address through their projects. They provide access to natural areas, loan equipment, maps, photographs and tools that may be important to the success of a project, or help educate students about stewardship issues by presenting a concern, issue, or area of expertise.

School-community partnerships are designed to be mutually rewarding. Through involvement in GTSI, students and community partners benefit in several ways:

  • Each place-based education project has a community service component that is designed to help community partners meet their needs.
  • Community partners gain access to the ideas, energy, and ingenuity of the next generation of environmental stewards.
  • Media coverage of GTSI projects spotlight the collaboration between students and community partners who have helped them obtain their public outreach goals.
  • By offering expertise and training to teachers and students, community partners can benefit financially through partner stipends and project mini-grants .

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative is fortunate to work with so many valuable partnering organizations. We invite you to get involved with the Stewardship Initiative and help us train the next generation of Great Lakes stewards!

If your business, organization or community group is interested in becoming a GTSI partner, please contact Fred Sitkins, ISEA Executive Director at or call 231-271-3077. We are looking forward to working with you!

Do you have an idea for a high quality school-community partnership? Share it with our coordinator by clicking here

View our Memorandum of Partnership

Learn how community partners can become involved in GTSI and about the benefits to participating partners.


In 2007 the Great Lakes Fishery Trust (GLFT) established and funded a state-wide initiative called the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (GLSI), the parent to the GTSI and 8 other hubs throughout the region, with the mission of providing educators with the training and experience needed to help Michigan’s young people gain knowledge about the Great Lakes watershed, and become future stewards of the environment.

All hubs are funded on a decreasing scale by the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, with a goal for each hub to become self- sustaining. In order to achieve this, the vision and goals of GTSI and its host, Inland Seas, are to secure funding opportunities specifically for GTSI and to foster shared investment in the initiative by partners, creating a coalition of support and shared ownership.

If you are a community partner or an individual who would like to invest in GTSI and the next generation of stewards, contact Fred Sitkins, ISEA Executive Director at or call 231-271-3077 to discuss funding opportunities.

Read about how you can help fund the exciting projects that classrooms and community partners are collaborating on.

Success Stories

GTSI is part of a network of 9 hubs throughout the state of Michigan that make up the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative.

To view sample projects and success stories from GTSI and our sister hubs, visit

Read about a handful of local place-based education success stories.

Past Projects

GIS Mapping Internships

Woodland School – 2019 Forestry Project

Check out what Tara DenHerder’s 8th grade class at West Middle School (TC) accomplished in 2017:

Read about the past projects implemented by participating classrooms and community partners.

Applications and Sign-Ups

Event and Professional Development Registration (Universal Form)

This form can be used to register for any upcoming GTSI events or professional development offerings. 

Request for Professional Development Funding

Each year GTSI sets aside funds to support teacher participation in valuable professional development opportunities outside of those offered by GTSI. 

GTSI Mini Grant Application Materials

Project Plan Application 

Required for teachers applying individually and/or as a group. If teachers apply for mini grant funds as a group, only one Project Plan Application is required for the full group. 

Individual Teacher Activity Plan

Required for each teacher applying for mini grant funds. 

Memorandum of Partnership 

Please distribute to community partners collaborating with your class. Forms can be submitted to the GTSI Coordinator and are used for grant record keeping purposes.


The rubric provides teachers with an understanding of quality place-based education projects and activities that are most (and least) likely to be approved for mini grant funds. 

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative is a branch of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative and is made possible thanks to support from:

GLFT Logo  ISEA_Logo_c   GLSI Logo

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