NY Sea Grant Shares “Freedom Seekers” Curriculum with Great Lakes Teachers
New York's Great Lakes: Ecosystem Education Exchange - Press Release

Routes of the Freedom Seekers from the enslaved states to the free states. Learn more in ‘Freedom Seekers,’ a new Sea Grant-developed curriculum that teaches students about connections between the Underground Railroad, Great Lakes and scienceCredit: Michigan Sea Grant.


Nate Drag, NYSG Great Lakes Coastal Literacy Specialist, E: nwd4@cornell.edu, P: (716) 645-3610

Mary Austerman, NYSG Great Lakes Coastal Community Specialist, E: mp357@cornell.edu, P: (315) 331-8415

Kara Lynn Dunn, NYSG's Freelance Great Lakes Publicist, E: karalynn@gisco.net, P: (315) 465-7578

Buffalo, NY, April 19, 2021 - New York Sea Grant (NYSG) has published Freedom Seekers: The Underground Railroad, Great Lakes and Science Literacy Activities, a free curriculum for middle and high school educators. 

As an addition to New York Sea Grant professional development programming for K-12 educators and homeschoolers, the new curriculum incorporates cross-curricular and Environmental Justice education approaches to K-12 teaching. This new resource provides an innovative way that students can engage in place-based learning by discovering their own local and New York State environment through Underground Railroad connections to the Great Lakes region. 

The Freedom Seekers curriculum highlights historical and environmental resources along Lake Erie, the Niagara River, and Lake Ontario. For example, one section focuses on historical accounts describing Underground Railroad heroine Harriet Tubman as a naturalist. The Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, New York, is a National Historical Park in Cayuga County, the northern border of which runs along Lake Ontario.

The new curriculum notes the essential role of Great Lakes waterways and landed sites for those seeking freedom to the north. For example, the Cataract House hotel built in 1825 along the Niagara Riverbank in Niagara Falls served as an Underground Railroad stop.

“One of the lessons in the Freedom Seekers curriculum connects history, ecology, and today’s activities at a site that is popular with community members and has been the focus of local organizations including Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and the Friends of Broderick Park,” notes Nate Drag, who recently joined New York Sea Grant as its Great Lakes Coastal Literacy Specialist.

“Teachers and students using the curriculum are invited to put themselves in the role of consultants to make recommendations for enhancing Broderick Park on Buffalo’s West Side, a National Park Service ‘Network to Freedom’ Site and a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance,” says Drag, who is based at the New York Sea Grant office at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

In addition to New York Sea Grant, local members of the Freedom Seekers Curriculum Committee included representatives of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Niagara Falls City Schools, Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, The Park School of Buffalo, and the University at Buffalo. Partners across the Great Lakes included Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Michigan Sea Grant, and Wisconsin Sea Grant.

The concept for this Underground Railroad-Great Lakes curriculum originated with Monica L. Miles, Ph.D., while serving as a Coastal Literacy Specialist with New York Sea Grant in 2020. The curriculum design utilizes Great Lakes Literacy Principles.

More Info: Freedom Seekers Curriculum

Freedom Seekers were environmentalists who learned to navigate the land as they escaped slavery. Songs like “Wade in the Water” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd” remind us that history has always been connected to the land we occupy.

This free curriculum, Freedom Seekers: The Underground Railroad, Great Lakes, and Science Literacy Activities, acknowledges the enslaved Africans who had to rely on environmental science principles in their quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These lessons introduce an innovative way students can engage in place-based learning, by discovering their local history with the Underground Railroad and its connection to the Great Lakes.

The Freedom Seekers curriculum project is a collaborative effort between several organizations and schools throughout the Great Lakes. It is part of a professional development effort for educators to increase their knowledge of the Great Lakes and environmental issues while incorporating Environmental Justice Education (EJE) approaches to K-12 teaching. These EJE approaches leverage cross-curricular connections that focus on increasing the awareness of local issues and history in the Great Lakes region.

These lessons introduce an innovative way students can engage in place-based learning by discovering their local history with the Underground Railroad and its connection to the Great Lakes. Curriculum topics include maritime connections to the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, how to conduct historical research, how race and historical US Census data connect to the Underground Railroad, and famous Black scientists and inventors."

Connected to the Center for Great Lakes Literacy and its Great Lakes Literacy Principles, these lessons were designed and assembled as a collaborative effort to share the interconnections humans have with the land. These lessons introduce an innovative way students can engage in place-based learning, by discovering their local history with the Underground Railroad and its connection to the Great Lakes.

“We hope you find this resource to be thoughtful and useful for connecting educational materials on the Underground Railroad, Great Lakes literacy and science teaching,” said Miles. “These activities are meant to be a launching point for students to continue to engage in robust, well-rounded conversations about the Great Lakes, an area with rich environmental resources and cultural history.”

More Info:
New York Sea Grant

New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York (SUNY), is one of 34 university-based programs under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program.

Since 1971, NYSG has represented a statewide network of integrated research, education and extension services promoting coastal community economic vitality, environmental sustainability and citizen awareness and understanding about the State’s marine and Great Lakes resources.

Through NYSG’s efforts, the combined talents of university scientists and extension specialists help develop and transfer science-based information to many coastal user groups—businesses and industries, federal, state and local government decision-makers and agency managers, educators, the media and the interested public.

The program maintains Great Lakes offices at Cornell University, SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Oswego and the Wayne County Cooperative Extension office in Newark. In the State's marine waters, NYSG has offices at Stony Brook University in Long Island, Brooklyn College and Cornell Cooperative Extension in NYC and Elmsford and Kingston in the Hudson Valley.

For updates on Sea Grant activities: www.nyseagrant.org has RSS, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube links. NYSG offers a free e-list sign up via www.nyseagrant.org/nycoastlines for its flagship publication, NY Coastlines/Currents, which is published quarterly.

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This website was developed with funding from the Environmental Protection Fund, in support of the Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Act of 2006. 

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