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Maryland Board of ED on the verge of adopting environmental literacy plan - August 22, 2010

In many ways, Maryland is considered a leader in education. Earlier this year, respected education journal Education Week ranked Maryland schools number one in the nation.

At the leading edge again, the Maryland State Board of Education is on the verge of adopting a statewide environmental literacy plan. If adopted, Maryland would be the first state to create a high school graduation requirement for environmental literacy. Several other states across the country are following Maryland’s lead and considering the implementation of similar plans.

Many exemplary environmental education programs already exist in some Maryland schools; however, not all students currently have access to these programs. The proposed environmental literacy graduation requirement will ensure that every Maryland student will complete a course of study which will better prepare them to deal with the complex environmental issues they will face in coming years.

The Roper Report has tracked environmental literacy rates of adults for the past 40 years. Eighty percent of adults in the U.S. are environmentally illiterate. Executive Director of the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) Bronwyn Mitchell asks: “imagine if 80% of the country were functionally illiterate – could not read or write. In this scenario, how would literacy rates influence quality of life, economic development, cultural expression, the progression of new ideas, and the protection of freedom?  For 40 years, the health of the Chesapeake Bay has continued to deteriorate. For 40 years, environmental literacy rates have not risen. Is there a connection?”

The state environmental literacy plan is designed to address the health of the state’s environment from a different angle.  “Instead of throwing money at the problem – it aims to build knowledge and understanding.  If you believe that literacy helped to build the U.S., you must believe that environmental literacy will help to sustain the U.S.,” says Mitchell. 

Maryland has strong advocates for environmental literacy, including the No Child Left Inside Coalition. Members of the Coalition, including the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, recognize that complicated environmental issues will continue to pose significant challenges. Ensuring that Maryland students graduate environmentally literate is a critical opportunity to provide every student in Maryland with a solid understanding of these problems and the basic tools to overcome them and make informed choices in their own lives.

Environmental studies programs are now becoming one of the fastest growth areas for colleges, and business leaders increasingly believe that an environmentally literate workforce is critical to their long term success. Environmental education is the foundation for creating the green workforce of the new economy.

If adopted, who will assist the Maryland Department of Education in ensuring the effective implementation of a statewide environmental literacy plan?  Recognizing that teachers have numerous responsibilities and learning goals which must be met in their classrooms, highly-qualified environmental education (EE) professionals across the state are poised to assist them with this new challenge. Tucked between the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays, is an outdoor classroom perfect for engaging Maryland students and teachers in rich environmental education experiences. The Eastern Shore is home to many fine EE providers including a national seashore, wildlife refuges, numerous state and county parks, museums, a zoo, and land and wildlife conservation organizations.

The Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature defines environmental literacy as: students that possess the knowledge, intellectual skills, attitudes, experiences and motivation to make and act upon responsible environmental decisions as individuals and as members of their community.

Environmentally literate students understand environmental and physical processes and systems, including human systems. They are able to analyze global, social, cultural, political, physical, economic and environmental relationships, and weigh various sides of environmental issues to make responsible decisions as individuals and as members of their community and citizens of the world.

Research has shown that when integrated into the curricula or used as an integrating theme across the curriculum, environmental education has a measurably positive impact not only on student achievement in science but also in reading, math, and social studies.

Field experiences may contribute to healthy lifestyles through outdoor recreation and education. Getting kids outdoors to exercise, play and experience their natural world is an important tool to prevent obesity, alleviate attention deficit disorder and address other related health problems.

Like it or not, we will be passing on complicated environmental problems to future generations. We must give the next generation a solid understanding of these problems and the basic tools to overcome them and make informed choices in their own lives.

The future of our state, and our nation, relies on a well-educated public to be wise stewards of the very environment that sustains us.



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