Civic Soapbox
5:19 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Environmental Literacy

Augusta County, VA –

Environmental Literacy - by Bruce Dorries

From kindergarten through college, many students struggle with basic lessons in "Nature 101." Yet, they earn gold stars in "Advanced Pop Culture." That needs to change.

Teaching our kids environmental literacy with meaningful lessons connected to nature benefits learning across the curriculum -- while greening up the Valley's future.

Fortunately, more schooling in sustainability, from understanding natural resources to the basics of agriculture, appears to be gaining ground. Calls for "nature across the curriculum" come from reaches near and far.

Just down stream from the Valley, Maryland leads the nation in environmental ed. Public schools in the Chesapeake State must now include outdoor education when teaching the three Rs and subjects beyond. Water pollution ranks high in the new curriculum, as it should. Young and old, every one of us at the top of the food chain shares some culpability in the Chesapeake mess.

Agriculture has tired of taking all of the blame for the Bay's demise. So, Maryland farmers are having their challenges heard in schools, too. The clich : "Kids today don't know where their daily bread comes from, or how it gets from farms and fisheries to plates," is justified. Ag education in the curriculum must stretch well beyond FFA classrooms.

Each of us need to take responsibility for addressing the complexity of the problem from many perspectives. Teaching youngsters early the nature of the issues, and challenges that farmer face, may lead to better solutions rather than more finger pointing and polarization. The Commonwealth's kids need to keep pace with the neighbors' - Virginia educators and legislators -- take notes on how the Maryland lessons play out.

Fortunately, a local environmental educator sees improvement in our children's nature-based education. Tamra Willis started the Shenandoah Valley Environmental Educators Association. She has spent much of her life developing and promoting nature-based learning.

Willis notes that teachers who use nature-based lessons pass on critical thinking and problem solving skills as they address standards of learning. For example, students study the sciences while looking at stream quality. They learn social studies and economics by examining issues related to industry and the environment.

Another sign of progress on a broader scale is the U.S. Department of Education's recent launch of the Green Ribbon Schools program.

Awards will recognize schools for reducing environmental impact on communities, and offering high-quality environmental education. The program encourages energy and resource conservation measures that lead to cost savings and job creation.

A greener curriculum clearly pays off in many more ways than one.

Environmental literacy has roots here. We just have to help them sink deeper.