Environmental Education Takes Root
In Delaware Valley public schools, environmental education doesn’t just take place in science class these days. Students also learn about the environment in subjects such as social studies and through green teams and extracurricular activities.
Environmental units have filtered into state curriculum standards. Educational publishers, foundations and even a coalition of state agencies have created materials to implement these standards.
Kits and Programs
Throughout the region, elementary students often receive environmental education through the use of kit-based lessons. For example, 5th grade teachers in Quakertown, PA schools use kits to teach about ecosystems. Created by private companies, these kits are based on state standards. They include teachers’ guides and classroom materials.
One kit publisher, Foss, offers a research-based curriculum for students in grades K-8. Another kit published by STC includes science curriculum developed by the National Science Resources Center for kids grades K-8.
Other providers of educational supplements include Project Learning Tree, the American Forest Foundation’s environmental education program, a set of high-quality curriculum materials for grades PreK-12.
Project WILD is a widely used conservation and environmental education program for K-12 students. Its premise is that young people and educators have a vital interest in learning about the natural world. A network of state wildlife agencies participate in this program. Pennsylvania has two sponsors, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. New Jersey’s state sponsor is the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife and in Delaware, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control participates.
Beyond classroom instruction, many districts have created their own “green” programs that can include activities, clubs and school district-wide observations. Here are some examples.
PA: Council Rock
A thriving environmental education program in the Council Rock School District headquartered in Newtown, PA begins with green buildings. The district was named an ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year in 2008 and 2009 and a 2010 winner for "sustained excellence" in recognition of its superior energy management. The district has reduced its energy consumption by 40 percent since the program began in 2005. Elementary school students developed a logo and slogan for the program, which is monitored by a “Green Team” of parents and staff.
Each year the Council Rock district celebrates Earth Week during April. Each day features a different program, including Dark Day when schools turn off all the lights and work by ambient light. This year Earth Week also features an environmental film festival.
The district makes an effort to include all students in environmental learning, including special education students. All students at the district’s 16 schools can take part in Energy Patrols by turning off unneeded lights and computers and keeping doors and windows closed to conserve heat.
NJ: Collingswood and Cherry Hill
In New Jersey, state standards for environmental curriculum include teaching civic engagement and responsibility to the community.
The Collingswood and Cherry Hill School Public Schools pay special attention to the environment. Last school year, the Sharp School in Collingswood was awarded $9,300 from the NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation for Excellence in Education. The school used the money to study the use and application of sustainable energy. Fifth graders took part in activities such as building and racing solar-powered model cars and a space biology experiment observing basil seeds flown to the International Space Station.
According to the New Jersey Department of Education, because of the economy and budget cuts, many New Jersey schools are sponsoring fewer field trips. Instead, teachers are using areas at or near their schools for “place-based learning.” Students learn through projects such as community gardening, butterfly gardening and composting.
Cherry Hill 6th graders, on the other hand, travel to an environmental residency program at Mt. Misery in the Pinelands. Extracurricular clubs in Cherry Hill and many other school districts offer students the opportunity to promote recycling and adopt projects such as a local pond clean-ups. These activities supplement an array of classroom and place-based lessons.
DE: Indian River District
In Delaware, teaching focuses on topics such as how human decisions affect the sustainability of natural resources and the global economic systems of natural resources and environmental science.
Students in the Indian River School District, headquartered in Selbyville, visit local sites such as Ingram Pond and James Farm Ecological Preserve to learn about ecosystems and take part in watershed studies.
Thanks to a partnership with the Delaware Center for Inland Bays, students also have the opportunity to conduct their own investigation and research in schoolyard habitats. These living classrooms can be found at Phillip C. Showell Elementary School in Selbyville, Long Neck Elementary School in Millsboro, Indian River High School in Dagsboro and East Millsboro Elementary School in East Millsboro.
Carol Anne Pagliotti is a freelance writer and former resources editor of MetroKids.