The 2012-2013 school year will bring with it the new environmental literacy requirements passed by the legislature in June 2011. This new graduation requirement ensures that all public school students experience environmental education as part of the curriculum.
The eight environmental literacy standards are met by infusing core subjects such as math, science and language arts with a range of outdoor experiences, hands-on learning and studies that are grounded in the unique ecosystems of Maryland.
The standards cover earth systems, flow of matter and energy, environment and health, populations, communities and ecosystems, humans and natural resources, environment and society and sustainability.
In Baltimore there is already much energy and focus on the environment and sustainability. The Baltimore City Public Schools, through the Office of Community Engagement, has already established the Baltimore Green Schools Network. The members of this network are a great resource to the city in successfully incorporating environmental literacy into the curriculum.
Rich knowledge network
A recent meeting at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers brought together our Green Funders and Education Funders affinity groups to highlight the partnerships and cross-sector work that are being tapped to meet the new requirements this fall.
The district is cataloging community resources and nonprofit environmental education partners that are available to help teachers incorporate the eight requirements into their lesson plans. Teachers have access to outdoor education programs and a wealth of resources and issue experts that will enrich their classrooms.
Funders with an interest in the environment as well as funders focusing on education have, over the years, made significant investments in nonprofit organizations focused on nature studies, watershed protection, schoolyard gardening and many other aspects of environmental literacy.
The environmental literacy standards will give teachers and students an incentive to tap into this rich knowledge network that already exists in our region.
The funder meeting reinforced the power of cross-group collaboration. The education funders in the room knew all too well the pressures teachers face to improve test scores and the importance of stimulating classrooms for our kids. The green funders are also keenly aware of the long-term societal benefits of helping kids become environmental stewards.
Among the many points covered in the meeting was the emerging research on how outdoor experiences and environmental education enhance academic achievement and build critical thinking skills.
All of this is in line with the national trend toward learning which focuses on helping students understand their communities as ecosystems. Such learning interprets the environment broadly to include cultural, social and economic aspects.
I am encouraged that the schools see this as an opportunity to enhance their teaching — in and out of the classroom. With full academic rigor, this is a chance to be innovative and bring new creativity to learning.
That we are moving toward a richer and more holistic approach to educating our children speaks loudly about our commitment to their future.