Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CREEC and Santa Cruz County Office of Education Showcase the Region's Resources

The room is packed with displays of petrified wood, watershed maps, garden seeds, gorgeous books—even a live bat! Welcome to the Environmental Education Resource Fair, hosted by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and organized by the CREEC Network. By bringing together the region’s environmental education organizations, the Resource Fair enables teachers to gather information from multiple agencies, all in the space of an afternoon. Representatives of thirty different organizations were there, eager to talk with each teacher in order to better understand what we can do to help teachers include environmental education in every student’s school day.

Where does Environmental Education fit into a packed school schedule? The answer should be—everywhere. Environmental education is simply using the environment as a context for teaching any subject. “Teachers have so much to teach in a year,” says high school teacher Monica Ward “The great thing is that it (environmental education) is not teaching additional information, it is teaching the same material through a new perspective, an environmental lens.”

This is the concept at the heart of the programs represented at the Resource Fair. For example, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was spreading the word about its Voices of the Bay Program, in which teachers learn about an interdisciplinary and standards-based curriculum that teaches students about the dynamics of sustaining and managing natural resources, the socio-economic considerations and commerce of seafood, and the skills required to interview local members of the fishing community to capture their unique stories and knowledge.

Connecting education with the environment is not just more interesting and relevant for students, it is vital for all citizens. Increasing the environmental literacy of students will ensure that they are informed decision makers for the future. California is at the forefront of this effort with its Environment and Education Initiative (EEI). The State Board of Education has approved the EEI Curriculum—85 units for grades K-12 which teach existing History-Social Science and Science standards to mastery. As one sixth grade teacher described it, “I’m excited about this curriculum and method of instruction as I see it leading students toward being better informed decision makers in the future, with the skills necessary to look at the ‘big picture’ and see long-term related consequences of short-term decisions.”

The environmental education programs at the Resource Fair certainly displayed the ‘big picture,’ representing the diversity of the field and the amazing array of resources in the region—including garden-based programs, animal conservation groups, outdoor science schools, natural resource management programs, children’s book publishers, and natural history museums. CREEC maintains its online searchable database of these and other resources to help teachers easily tie social studies, language arts, math, and other subjects to a context that is exciting and relevant to students’ daily lives.

The Fair was also an important opportunity to acknowledge the dedication of teachers. While the teachers were busy gathering new curriculum and field trip ideas, high school students from the County’s Regional Occupational Program were hard at work as well—treating the teachers to mini cream puffs, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, a sumptuous cheese platter, and other creative hors d’oeuvres they had prepared as part of a class providing training in event catering. Teachers were surprised and delighted not only by the delicious food but also by the generous raffle prizes donated by the community.

As the staff at Well Within Spa handed over a generous gift certificate for the raffle, they explained, “We all have teachers in our families. We love teachers! We know how important they are.” How true. And we all know how important the environment is. The dedication and the resources are there—we just need to find more ways to bring them together. Together we can build environmental literacy for every child.