environmental education

The Last Year of an Environmental Educator’s Career: Reflections on Sustainability

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

I’m fortunate to manage EPA Region 7’s Environmental Education Program. I get to meet folks like Dr. Michael Hotz, who work tirelessly to ensure today’s students understand, value and enjoy learning. Dr. Hotz is one of those exceptional teachers who students remember long after they’ve graduated, an educator who makes a lasting impression. Most importantly, he’s influenced students to realize that science, technology, engineering and math are subjects they can understand and have fun doing, while actually learning – and it’s knowledge they can keep and use for years to come.

Dr. Hotz is a model teacher and representative of many fine teachers across the Heartland. I had the honor of watching him receive his Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. I wish him well on his career’s final year, and hope the teaching profession can employ more teachers like him. Thank you, Dr. Hotz, for an impressive 31-year run!

By Dr. Michael Hotz

As I begin the last of 31 years of teaching young people, I reflect on sustainability. Through the last 19 years in the Kansas City, Kan., Public School District, I’ve had the opportunity to create a school garden/outdoor classroom, conduct long-term watershed studies, create an aquaponic system where tilapia grow and greenhouse plants are nourished, and conduct energy audits to save more than $100,000 in utility costs.

Dr. Hotz and his wife, Catherine, at PIAEE award ceremony

Dr. Hotz and his wife, Catherine, at PIAEE award ceremony

It’s been a great experience, and I have an EPA employee to thank for, as she says, “planting the seed of ideas.” Roberta Vogel-Luetung sat with me as we brainstormed ideas over 15 years ago at an in-service meeting conducted by EPA. We discussed how an empty, unused courtyard at Wyandotte High School could be used for teaching environmental content. Since that meeting, the courtyard has been turned into a school garden and outdoor classroom with 20 raised beds, an automated sprinkler system, all-weather walkways, flower gardens, a water feature, and composting facilities.

Students were challenged and stepped up to the task of designing, building, and financing this area, which they also help plant and maintain. These students, as well as others, have reaped the fruits of their labors. Joanne Postawait has taken over the responsibility of planting and harvesting this area, while I continue to help with its hardscape maintenance.

School garden/outdoor classroom

School garden/outdoor classroom

The EPA video “After the Storm” inspired me to create a “challenge-based” learning experience for the Small Learning Community in which I teach at Wyandotte High School. Through collaboration with my fellow educators Ms. Hornberger (Math), Mr. Willard (English), and Mr. Zak (Engineering), we created a long-term project around Big Eleven Lake in Kansas City, Kan.

Each year, students study their watershed in my science classes. We bring the studies down to the local level of what the students can do themselves to help the watershed. They’ve been taught how to conduct water testing, and then go into the field and test Big Eleven Lake, Kaw Point (at the convergence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers), and other lakes in the area. Comparisons are made and reported to the Kansas Health Department. All of the curriculums are tied into this experience. Standardized test scores demonstrate that significant gains have been made because of this program.

I was also a member of the EPA Urban Lake Testing Group where EPA provided water testing techniques and equipment, and samples were sent to EPA laboratories for analysis. I was then able to train residents of the Big Eleven Lake area, who belong to the Struggler’s Hill/Roots Neighborhood Association, to do the water testing. These neighborhood association members were helpful in sharing their lives and experiences around the lake, and the EPA employees were just as helpful with the testing and field work.

Aquaponics system

Aquaponic system

We developed a pilot aquaponics program where tilapia are grown. The water from these tanks is sent to trays where plants are grown, establishing a symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants. Wastes from the tilapia nourish tomatoes, herbs, squash, and other plants in our greenhouse. This type of organic, non-polluting growing system is 10 times more efficient than traditional methods and saves water.

I initiated energy audits and plans to save on utility costs. Students use testing equipment to monitor lights, electricity, and temperature and then develop plans to reduce usage. More than $100,000 was saved in a single year. A recycling program also is in place, which is operated by our Environmental Club and is part of the Green Schools Program of the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education.

Aquaponic system

Aquaponic system

These programs helped me to be recognized as a proud winner of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). EPA and its employees have been instrumental in the development and teaching of these programs.

I am honored that my former student and 2015 graduate, Karina Macias Leyva, wrote the following in her letter of recommendation for the award: “When Dr. Hotz teaches anything that is part of the environmental education field, even with the smallest projects, he inspires students to gain awareness of their environment and acquire knowledge, skills, values, experiences and also determination, which will enable students to act individually and collectively that will lead to solving present and future environmental problems.”

I’m currently working with Towson University, investigating how environmental education happens in and out of the classroom and what impacts student understanding and attitudes about the environment and environmental science.

As I plan for this final year of teaching, my major concern is sustaining these programs. I’m training and encouraging other teachers at Wyandotte High School to keep them going. Our environmental future depends upon the teaching of young minds here in the Heartland and across the nation.

I have enjoyed and am thankful for the relationships that have been made with EPA, and I look forward to working with all of you at EPA during this final year.

About the Introducer: Kathleen Fenton has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: Dr. Michael Hotz has been a teacher at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan., for the past 19 years, as part of his 31-year teaching career. He was awarded the PIAEE in 2015.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sharing a Passion for Nature with a New Generation

by Jorine Campopiano

It’s all or nothing. I’m all-in. This is the way I live my life. I am passionate about what I do and work hard on the things I care about. I feel lucky to work as an Environmental Education Coordinator for EPA’s Region 9 in California, where every day I get to work with kids and educators who have that same passion.

When I was a little girl, my father – a nature and hiking enthusiast — would take me on long trips to our local mountains. It was grueling keeping up with him — we would hike for hours. We backpacked and camped in the snow. We always stayed out too long and would end up pulling out our flashlights just to get back to the car. It wasn’t always fun – I would get tired, grumpy, and yes even cry, but I had little choice but to keep moving, I didn’t give up. I grew to appreciate nature, and now as a mother of three young boys, I try to give them similar hands-on experiences so they can understand the bigger issues our earth faces. At EPA, we support the philosophy of hands-on, interactive environmental education that connects science and environmental issues to students’ everyday lives.

This week, EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality are recognizing winners of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators and the President’s Environmental Youth Award. These programs recognize teachers and K-12 youth who harness their passion and put it towards a project that promotes awareness of our nation’s natural resources and encourages positive community involvement. Our student winners in Region 9 – a class from the Mount Madonna School in Watsonville, California – were inspired by their desire to protect several Pacific sea turtle species. What impressed me most about this project was the complexity and diversity of what they did. This wasn’t some standard school project. The class jumped in, making a movie about the sea turtles, promoting plastic bag bans at City Council meetings, and acting as global ambassadors, by raising thousands of dollars to educate Indonesian fishing village children about the issue.

 photo of a group of kids at the Library of Congress

PEYA winners from Watsonville, California visit the Library of Congress while in D.C. to receive their award.

I am excited to meet the winners this week and am honored to participate in the Presidential Awards Ceremony as a representative from EPA Region 9.  I brought my eldest son, and I hope that he is inspired by hearing about what students across the country have done to improve their environment. Maybe he’ll also understand more about the work his mother does to protect the earth, as I learned from my father.

It’s been said that just a few committed citizens have the power to change the world.  I believe this and believe in the potential shown by these winners. I’m all-in.

Jorine has worked at EPA since 2003, focusing on issues related to wetlands, water and children’s health before her interests expanded to environmental education. She holds a Master of Science in Environmental Science & Management.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Solar Panels and “Scrape Metel”…

By Wendy Dew

You have to love it when you walk up to a school and kids are planting trees and a 1st grader is waiting at the door to inform you where you should put your “scrape metel”.  I had not yet identified myself as  an EPA employee there to photograph the amazing kids who received a grant to put solar panels on the roof of their school.  Any visitor to Mackintosh Academy that day would be astounded at the amount of environmental work occurring at the school.  After almost a decade in environmental education at EPA you would think I could no longer be amazed by kids…think again!

“Scrape metel” collection box Photo by Wendy Dew

“Scrape metel” collection box
Photo by Wendy Dew

Mackintosh Academy in Littleton, Colorado is leading the pack in environmental education.  Numerous projects have been accomplished and many more are in the works.  The most notable project was recently completed right before Earth Day 2015.  A group of students at the school decided that they needed to do more to help the environment.  They decided to apply for a grant through State Farm Youth Advisory Board’s service learning grant and were able to get $96,000 to put solar panels on their school.  The panels, now installed, save the school money and reduce carbon emissions.  The school will even be able to put energy back onto the grid.

Nicholas, Sydney, Delia and Skyler the 7th graders who made the solar project happen Photo by Wendy Dew

Nicholas, Sydney, Delia and Skyler the 7th graders who made the solar project happen
Photo by Wendy Dew

The kids involved in the project, 7th graders, are very excited to have solar panels on the roof of their school.  Talking with the kids it is clear that they understand the importance of what they have been able to accomplish for the school and for the environment.

The school is also planting trees, recycling, composting and learning about how these actions help to protect the environment.  Every time I visit a new school to see what kids are doing to green their own school, the bar gets raised.  When we   visit schools to do talks we often find out the kids know  more about the environment than we thought.   My colleague was  worried that 2nd graders would not understand recycling, they then proceeded to show  us their composting program!  I do not worry about the future.  Soon kids like the ones at Mackintosh Academy will be leading the way in environmental protection and telling us how to get it done!

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Committed to Environmental Education On and Off the Job

By Kim Bartels

From the very beginning of my career with EPA as a kids’ environmental health coordinator, I have been afforded the opportunity to share my passion for protecting the environment and my love of science with children. This has been a significant aspect of my life personally, because no matter what my job title is, at the heart of it all, I am a scientist and a mom.  I care about this work so much that I’ve even started volunteering at a neighborhood school.  Now in my third year as a science volunteer, coordinating science enrichment activities at my kids’ elementary school, I have had the opportunity to engage hundreds of kids in fun ways of learning about science and the environment.

I coordinate the Science Explorer’s Club and it has become so popular with students that we have expanded it to run the entire school year. We meet once a month before school and have been told by a few parents that their young scientists amazingly bounce out of bed at their earlier time, excited to join us. Roughly 70 young scientists conduct projects and experiments that include spooky science, egg drop challenges, leaning towers of pasta, borax snowflakes, holiday chemistry, forensics, bubbleology, candy science, color mixology, fun with dry ice, and a liquid nitrogen demonstration.


As I became known for my enthusiasm for science and all things sustainable, my involvement with other enrichment activities expanded to include the Science Fair and an annual week-long Waste Free Lunch Challenge, and I am now a mentor for the school’s Green Team. This advisory team of 5th and 6th grade students serves as recycle ambassadors for their assigned classrooms, coordinates special recycling efforts for a few hard-to-recycle lunchroom items and sponsors a month-long clothing reuse/recycling collection drive as an Earth Day activity and a fundraiser.

Beyond the importance of fostering kids’ enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and math, another reason I love my volunteer work is the kids’ priceless reactions. My daughter recently shared with me that if she could have one wish granted from a genie and she couldn’t wish for more wishes (obviously), she would wish for the whole world to reuse and recycle EVERYTHING. After hearing that my son gets to do a lot of science experiments at home, his classmate expressed that she wished she could come to our house for more science. Probably one of the best declarations came from my 4 year old “assistant,” who attends all of my volunteer gigs, as she announced, “Mom, I just want to do science with you FOREVER!” My immediate response: Um, yes please!

About the author: Kim Bartels is the Region 8 Children’s Environmental Health Coordinator.  She has a BA in Biology and a MS in Environmental Science.  She enjoys spending time outdoors with her family of five, finding creative ways to show her children how the world can be their very own science laboratory.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Invasive Species Alert: Zebras on the Loose!

By Angela Sena

I don’t mean the four-legged variety, but zebra mussels! They are an invasive mollusk species (Dreissena polymorpha) that have been found in many lakes and rivers across the Heartland. Zebra mussels have been discovered in scattered locations along the Missouri River, Lake Lotawana, Smithville Lake, Lake of the Ozarks in the Osage River, Bull Shoals Lake, and Lake Taneycomo in the White River, just to name a few. For those who are water recreationists – boaters, anglers, water skiers, sailors or canoeists – we all need to keep our eyes open for this species and help prevent their spread since there is no known way to stop them once they get a foothold.

Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha)

Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha)

Zebra mussels are a group of freshwater mussels with triangular shells and dark bands with prominent ridges. A concavity (or hollow) about midway allows the animal to secrete byssal threads, which allow it to attach to almost any solid surface. They often clump together, and adults are generally ¼ to 1 inch in length. Zebra mussels are native to the Caspian Sea region of Asia, and were accidentally introduced to North America from ballast water of an international ship. They have tremendous reproductive capabilities: a female zebra mussel can produce more than a million eggs during spawning season. The eggs hatch into a larval form (veligers), which are not visible to the human eye, making their detection and eradication difficult. At three weeks, the sand grain-sized larvae start to settle and attach, and feel like sandpaper on solid surfaces.

This invasive species can hitchhike by attaching to boat, canoe and watercraft hulls, lower units and propellers, axles, engine drive units, trolling motors, hitches, and anchor chains. They can also survive in boat bilge water, livewells, bait buckets, and engine cooling water systems. Aside from being an inconvenience for your water craft equipment, they negatively impact the economy by clogging power plant intakes and industrial and public drinking water intakes, and damaging boat hulls and motors. Zebra mussels also harm native ecosystems, and decimate native freshwater mussels and other aquatic animals.

If you enjoy spending your summers on a lake, just like my family, then we all need to do our part. Water recreationalists can help by preventing the spread of the species with a few simple steps:

  • Clean – Remove all plants, animals and mud, and thoroughly wash all equipment with hot water spray (104 degrees), especially in small crevices or hidden areas. Most car washes will suffice. If you can’t wash at that temperature, a 10-percent solution of bleach will do.
  • Drain – Eliminate all water before leaving the lake, including livewells and transom
  • Dry – Allow sufficient time for drying between water events – at least 48 hours.
  • Dispose – Dispose of unused bait in a trash receptacle.
  • Report – Report any sitings of these species. The U.S. Geological Survey maintains a Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (NAS) website for zebra mussels that shows an up-to-date map of recorded occurrences, and includes a “Report a Sighting” link that allows you to submit a report if you find them.

USGS Where Are the Mussels

However, if you do spot a mussel when you’re out enjoying a lake or stream, don’t worry. Not all mussels are unwelcome. In fact, most mussels here in the Heartland are a good thing. Check out these previous Big Blue Thread blogs by EPA’s Craig Thompson: Mussels in the Blue, Mussels in the Blue II: Relative Abundance of Species in the Blue, and Mussels in the Blue III: Water Quality and Threats.

 

Angela Sena serves as an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division at EPA Region 7. She has a degree in environmental science and management, and is a native New Mexican and avid outdoorswoman.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrating Asthma Awareness Month and Environmental Education: EPA Region 7’s Partnership with Children’s Mercy Hospital

Introduction by Kathleen Fenton

There’s just something special about working with people who are very passionate about what they do. I feel that way every time my work brings me into contact with the top-notch medical professionals at Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) in Kansas City. Their vision is “Be a national and international leader recognized for advancing pediatric health and delivering optimal health outcomes through innovation and a high-value, integrated system of care.” It’s a big vision that CMH delivers on a daily basis.

It’s a good thing they are here because our children need them. Nearly seven million children in the U.S. have asthma, according to the American Lung Association. CMH works tirelessly with families and children who are suffering from a myriad of medical issues, including those caused by the environment, like asthma, pesticide and lead poisoning, and exposures to chemicals. They identify problems and find solutions to help sick children, worried parents, schools with environmental concerns, and communities at risk. CHM strives to find the right solutions for frequently unique challenges.

May is Asthma Awareness Month. Children’s Mercy Hospital and EPA are partners in a collective effort to help reduce asthma attacks and deaths and instruct others on how to prevent asthma attacks for the long term. Read on to understand how Dr. Jennifer Lowry and her team of professionals work closely together, as one of EPA’s many partners and grantees, to address environmental health concerns and protect human health.

By Jennifer Lowry, MD

Jennifer Lowry, MDThe Center for Environmental Health (CEH) at Children’s Mercy houses multiple entities focused on improving the environmental health in the Heartland and across the country. Specifically, the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) serves Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska) by providing education, consultation, and referrals for children with environmental exposures. Additionally, the CEH, led by Director Kevin Kennedy, has been successful in delivering Healthy Homes and Healthy Schools training throughout the region andPEHSU nationally. Through two current grant initiatives, EPA Region 7 has partnered with Children’s Mercy to expand these activities into education of health care professionals (Environmental Education to Healthcare Initiative – EEHI) and offer additional healthy school training courses in all areas of Region 7.

By incorporating Healthy Homes training with the PEHSU program, the EEHI can be replicable to each of EPA’s 10 Regions and standardized across the U.S., using the PEHSU network.

The EEHI has broadened the knowledge base of students in health care and will better prepare them for their future careers. In addition, it has offered resources for students, residents, and practicing health care providers (physicians, nurses, and ancillary staff) to use when an environmental concern for a patient arises in their practice. These didactics include a 1-hour “Lunch and Learn” targeted to working health care professionals and a 2-hour presentation for health care students (such as nursing and medical students). Each of the didactics uses case study presentations from the PEHSU and offers tools for each provider to use when health care decisions (diagnosis and treatment) need to be made regarding environmental exposures. By using case-based learning, each student and practitioner can acquire useable knowledge about environmental exposures that sometimes lead to adverse health outcomes.

Now in its second year of funding, more than 700 health care students and 275 health care professionals have been educated to advocate for home-based environmental changes that can improve children’s health. In addition to continuing didactic learning in schools and offices, an e-learning platform is being developed to enhance the scope of delivery. By delivering an integrated PEHSU and Healthy Homes/Healthy Schools curriculum regionally (and ultimately, nationally), the EEHI curriculum can become a standard framework to educate health care students and practitioners about environmental health.

This increased knowledge will advance and strengthen the field of pediatrics and lead to better health for children in our homes, schools, and communities.

In addition to homes, children spend a large portion of their time in schools. In fact, surveys show that children can spend 70-90 percent of their time indoors with much of their time within schools. As school environments play an important role in the health and academic success of children, unhealthy school environments can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration, and performance, as well as lead to expensive, time-consuming cleanup and remediation activities.

To that end, staff at Children’s Mercy Hospital will work in conjunction with EPA staff to publicize and present up to 10 Healthy School Specialist Training courses throughout our four-state region and provide at least two training courses near Region 7 tribal communities. The courses are planned to be offered during the next two fiscal years.

Topics of discussion at these interactive, hands-on sessions will include: ventilation, chemical use in schools, integrated pest management, school safety issues, and best practice guidelines on how to plan, implement, and create a Healthy Schools management plan – one that includes the goal of building a teamwork structure at each school site.

For additional information about the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), please call 1-800-421-9916 (toll-free) or visit www.childrensmercy.org/mapehsu.

For additional information about all of the CMH Environmental Health Training Courses, please contact Erica Forrest, education and training coordinator, at 816-960-8919 or visit www.childrensmercy.org/ceh.

To learn more, see EPA’s Environmental Education page and information on how to ensure a Healthy School through our online Healthy Schools Toolkit. Also, if you are interested in having your school assessed or an EPA expert providing a Healthy Schools presentation, please contact Kathleen Fenton at 913-551-7874 or fenton.kathleen@epa.gov.

 

Kathleen Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs in Lenexa, Kan. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

Jennifer Lowry, MD, is the Medical Director of the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, among several other prestigious titles. She served on EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee from 2012 to 2014.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Environmental Education is for Everyone….

By Wendy Dew

As the Outreach and Education Coordinator for Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, and Sound Dakota, I’ve attended and hosted many environmental education events for numerous students. I love spending time with the kids and teachers while they learn about the environment. I recently encountered a program unlike others I’ve seen before. The students of this amazing program are senior citizens who are interested in learning more about the environment and the local park they love.

The Senior Naturalist Program at Bear Creek Lake Park in Morrison, Colorado has started reaching out to its senior community to continue learning about the world around them. I recently attended one of these environmental education sessions and was enthralled with the enthusiasm and interest these students of the environment had.

Seniors learned all about the watershed and the water quality of the park they enjoy so much. A guest speaker from the local water board demonstrated how water testing equipment is used and explained how the local tributaries feed the parks lakes and streams. He also explained what they can do at home to help conserve and protect water resources such as:

  • Turn the water off when you brush your teeth or wash your dishes
  • Water the yard only when it needs it
  • Wash your car at a green car wash
  • Use plants that are native to the area for landscaping
  • Use only the water that you need

Seniors got to observe fish, snails, and insects that are typically found year round in the local lakes, wetlands and streams. They also played a game where participants had to guess what the object they were holding had to do with wetlands. After more fun classroom activities, the group went out for a hike to examine the watershed first hand.

I was very inspired by the dedication these folks had to learning, the park and the environment. It provides for a great learning environment, creates a fun social interaction and they even get in exercise with a hike. I have seen many “young” students learn about the environment, but these students were truly young at heart!

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA’s Region 8 Office (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, and Sound Dakota).

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Environmental Education Week 2015

This week, April 19-25, EPA and the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) are celebrating National Environmental Education Week along with thousands of students and teachers across the country. Through environmental education, educators show students how science is a part of our daily lives, teach them the skills to develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues, and encourage them to make responsible decisions. Earth Day, which falls in the middle of Environmental Education Week this year, is an important time to reflect on our environmental impact and what we can do to protect our planet.

Over the past several years, NEEF has led Environmental Education Week by focusing on “Greening STEM,” encouraging teachers and students to explore the connection between the natural world and STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM education provides the building blocks for questioning, investigating, interpreting, and ultimately protecting the world around us. Within the STEM classroom, environmental education can help students relate the formulas on the whiteboard to real world, outdoor experiences. Environmental education and STEM together equip students to critically analyze and identify effective solutions to environmental problems.

This Environmental Education Week, EPA offices across the country are working with their communities to connect with educators as well as recognize outstanding young environmental stewards—the new winners of the President’s Environmental Youth Award. This year’s winners are directly restoring damaged ecosystems, exploring exciting new alternative fuel options, and mobilizing their communities to support sustainable solutions to environmental problems. Later this year, our Office of Environmental Education will announce recipients of our Environmental Education Grants. Each year, we award $3.5 million to school districts, local governments, universities, tribal education programs, and other partners to support environmental education projects promoting awareness, stewardship, and skill building.

On Earth Day, NEEF staff will visit Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock, New Mexico, for the unveiling of a brand new Schoolyard STEM Lab, a unique learning space where students and teachers can participate in hands-on activities that exhibit the “greening” of STEM activities, from a greenhouse for science investigations to outdoor stations for engineering projects and more.

These unique experiences are what environmental education is all about—encouraging students to combine the skills they learn in the classroom with their curiosity about the natural world. It’s up to all of us to give them the chance to discover solutions to environmental challenges. We’re excited to explore the connections between environmental education and STEM throughout the year and to help teachers find the most engaging ways to enrich education through environmental themes.

There are many ways to get involved. Be an Environmental Education Week ambassador. Get outside this week and learn something new about the natural world. Share your understanding and encourage those around you to do the same. Find resources for your classroom or your child at http://www2.epa.gov/students/lesson-plans-teacher-guides-and-online-resources-educators and visit http://eeweek.org/ to learn more about how you can join the environmental education Week celebration.

About the authors: Stan Meiburg is the U.S. EPA Acting Deputy Administrator and Diane Wood is the President of the National Environmental Education Foundation.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Preparing Students for the Future Through Environmental Education

One of the best parts of my job here in the Office of Environmental Education is meeting creative, committed environmental educators- and getting to recognize them for their work. Until March 13, we’re accepting applications for the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators(PIAEE). We recently reached out to Nathaniel Thayer Wight, who teaches about sustainable energy at the Bronx Design & Construction Academy in the South Bronx. He shared his passion for environmental education and how the award is impacting his work and school.

Why did you become interested in environmental education (EE)? My early exposure to environmental sustainability evolved into to my interest in EE. I grew up on an island where residents use renewable energy to meet their electricity needs. After college, while in the United States Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, I worked on sustainable community development, focusing on agriculture and identifying solutions to soil erosion. Finally, I ended up in NYC; I’ve now been teaching in the same high school for over 10 years. Over this time, I’ve developed a passion for bringing environmental and energy literacy into urban education. I’m deeply interested in teaching our students about the interaction between energy and our urban environment, how to identify environmental problems, and most importantly, how to solve these problems in a sustainable way.

What role does EE play at your school? I work in a Career & Technical Education school, the Bronx Design & Construction Academy and have always been motivated to teach our youth about sustainable technologies through the lens of EE. My students are learning about economics and the environment, and how this relates to the building trades (electrical, plumbing, carpentry, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning and pre-engineering). Focusing our vision around environmental issues, such as climate change, reflects our school’s mission to provide 21st century Career & Technical Education.

How has winning the PIAEE award impacted your work and your school? The PIAEE Award – the result of my last 10 years of environmental work in the South Bronx – has really allowed me to strengthen and solidify the environmental projects I’ve always been working on at my school.

The award helped highlight and recognize our next big project: building the Energy-Environment Research Center. This center will:

  • Provide a model educational center where both students and community members can study renewable energy systems
  • Showcase cutting-edge renewable energy systems at street level for students, professionals, academics, engineers, and visitors to learn from
  • Provide an off-grid emergency power facility that can be used by the community during power outages and times of need
  • Power an off-grid greenhouse to grow organic produce for sale to the community

This award also allowed me to meet a group of incredible teachers working tirelessly in the field of EE. It’s very powerful to share our experiences; we definitely learned a lot from each other.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about teaching EE or any helpful advice you can offer to your fellow environmental educators?

EE helps our students make connections between human health and the earth’s health, identify anthropogenic factors that affect the earth’s ecosystems, and recognize symbiotic relationships that connect us with other organisms on our planet. Understanding these connections motivates them to action. To everyone teaching environmental education – keep up the great, vitally important work!

If you’re a K-12 teacher combining enthusiasm for environmental protection with a passion for teaching, consider applying for the PIAEE. Applications are due March 13, 2015. Thanks to Nathaniel and all our previous winners for their dedication. Keep up the good work!

About the author: Nathaniel Thayer Wight grew up on the San Juan Islands, located in the northwestern corner of Washington State’s Puget Sound. After completing college and a 2-year Peace Corps service, Nathaniel moved to NYC and completed an M.S. degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. Nathaniel has worked in the same high school building in the South Bronx, NYC for the last 10 years. A passionate environmental, energy and sustainability educator, Nathaniel enjoys helping students make connections between environmental problems and sustainable technologies. When Nathaniel isn’t teaching about sustainable energy, he can be found traveling with his family, playing guitar, working in his urban garden, and spending as much time as he can with his wife and baby daughter Sol.

Emily Selia works on communications and outreach for the Office of Environmental Education at EPA. In her free time, she’s doing her best to get outdoors as a volunteer naturalist, engaging children in learning about their local ecosystems.

Nathaniels installs a green roof with students on a Saturday morning

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A PIAEE Winner’s Path Forward

By Gerry Reymore

Greetings from Vermont! The snow is falling and the temperature is a chilly 20 degrees. As a teacher, I’m busy starting the second half of the school year. If your school is anything like ours, you don’t have time to even blink from now until graduation in June. The rest of the school year just seems to fly by.

This year is especially exciting for me as a winner of the 2014 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). This award recognizes K-12 teachers who connect students to the natural world around them and use innovative methods to teach environmental education. I’m proud to be one of the 2014 recipients. I received financial support for my training, and my school received financial support too. I challenged my students this year to brainstorm what we can do with the school portion of the funding.

We agreed to focus on water and incorporate that theme in as many ways as we can. We’ll be updating our water sampling lab equipment, which will allow us to test water samples at our homes and from the local brook that runs behind our school and into the White River. Our town is building a new water treatment plant and we’ll be working with the town to understand water science from a municipal perspective. Finally, we’ll be installing a remote weather station and a water sampling station in our sugarbush (the forest of maple trees where sap is harvested for syrup). With this equipment, we can sample and test rainwater to relate its properties to the health of the forest. Information we gather will be shared with the Proctor Maple Research Center of the University of Vermont.

As for me, I plan to use this award to improve my understanding of water and the environment, but from a different standpoint: engineering. This summer, I plan to study the Erie Canal in Central New York. I would like to focus on the engineering and construction of this historic project and look at the environmental impacts to tie engineering into my teaching. I can see plenty of lesson plans and lab experiments for next year’s class coming out of this experience.

Applications for the 2015 award are now being accepted. If you’re a stellar teacher who is passionate about environmental stewardship and actively incorporating environmental education into your teaching, I highly encourage you to apply for PIAEE.

EPA, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity to learn more about a subject I’m deeply committed to and to give my students a richer learning environment.

Have a great second half to the school year.

About the author: Gerry Reymore is the Environmental Resource Management Instructor at the Randolph Technical Career Center in Randolph Vermont. Before entering the teaching field 10 years ago, Gerry was vice president of a large Forest management and aerial mapping company in New England. He has a BS in Natural Resource Management from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY and a MSE in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington in Seattle. WA.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.