environmental education

We Can All Benefit from Learning More About Our Environment

By Nneamaka Odum

When I was young, I wondered how the earth worked. It wasn’t until attending a special middle school, that I was able to begin my environmental education. As I continued to learn, my passion for the environment grew. My friends who learned with me were all interested in protecting the environment as well. We frequently talked about environmental news, and we especially talked about our future careers. Some of my friends, like me, have gone on to study environmental science, wildlife, and even conservation. I can imagine what it would be like if everyone received the education and resources we did.

Since starting my internship here, I’ve learned that EPA has lots of interesting publications on topics from climate change to asthma control, and much more. And, anyone can get these publications for free – this includes parents, teachers, and schools. So, order some for students and help them start learning about the environment today.

The more kids learn about the environment, and how the earth works, the more they’ll benefit.

Even as a senior in college, I now use these publications in my classes to brush up on environmental science knowledge and share public health information with my family members. Recently, I learned how high energy usage can not only be a result of using appliances, but it can also be caused by water usage in homes.

At any rate, even if you’re not a young student, it’s always good to stay informed!

About the author: Nneamaka Odum is a senior studying Environmental Science and Policy at University of Maryland. She works as an intern in EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

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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Healthy Water, Healthy Kids

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

By Jennie Saxe

Like most children, my kids interact with water in many ways, from the moment they wake up to the moment their little heads hit their pillows. Every day, my boys use water for drinking, bathing, and brushing their teeth. The clothes they wear and the dishes they eat from get washed in water as well. They also love swimming, splashing in puddles, and hiking near (and sometimes falling into) Crum Creek. Because water interacts with nearly every part of our children’s lives, healthy kids depend on healthy water.

From Baltimore to Bangladesh – improving water quality means improving children’s health. As adults, we can do lots of things right in our own communities to make sure our kids have healthy water. Things like supporting local efforts to protect drinking water sources; conserving water resources by installing WaterSense-labeled products; and planting rain gardens to slow the flow of stormwater. And for the kids in other corners of the globe, we can support charitable organizations that bring water resources and sanitation to those who most desperately need them.

There’s something else we can do to help provide healthy waters for our kids into the future: we can teach them about the water resources all around them! Never underestimate what kids can do – their insight, ingenuity, and motivation are unparalleled when they understand connections to their daily lives. You never know…they may come up with their own amazing projects that protect and restore water quality. To get our next generation of water protectors started, EPA has compiled a variety of educational resources and activities geared toward students and educators.

At home, and at work, I always look forward to opportunities to teach children about water resources. Earth Day, Drinking Water Week, Protect Your Groundwater Day, American Wetlands Month, World Rivers Day, and, the upcoming 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act all provide opportunities for communicating with our kids, in language they understand, just how important our precious waters really are.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She’s taught her kids where their water comes from and what happens when it goes down the drain.

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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Te·sito: the gathering of many to work for a common cause, A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story in the Gambia

Woman in rice farming field in Kiang Jali, The Gambia.

Woman in rice farming field in Kiang Jali, The Gambia.

By Maggie Rudick

Growing up, I remember volunteering for park cleanup projects and school fundraisers, and hearing the phrase, “many hands make light work.”  I understood it, at a superficial level.  But, as I began my Peace Corps service as an environmental and natural resource volunteer in Gambia, “many hands make light work” took on a whole new meaning.

When rice yields from the previous season were low, community leaders in my host village of Kiang Jali got together and brainstormed solutions to avoid the same problem in the future. To grow a sustainable amount of rice to feed the whole village, a new dike needed to be constructed on the outskirts of the village.

This was a daunting task of digging up dirt from one section of the rice fields and creating a 3-foot dirt “wall” for an entire mile.

Kiang Jali women dig to build a dike.

“Who is going to do this work?  There is no equipment or tools!” I exclaimed in Mandinka (the local dialect), to the women’s group president, Daranging.  She gave me a grin and, in her raspy voice, said bluntly, “It’s okay, we’ll finish tomorrow.  Tesito; people will come.”

In the time it took me to walk across the village to my host family’s house, word had spread. Tomorrow.  Tesito. Right after breakfast. 

Kiang Jali  women demonstrate testito while building a dike to ensure higher yield of the village’s rice crop

Kiang Jali women demonstrate testito while building a dike to ensure higher yield of the village’s rice crop

Sitting around the food bowl at dinner, I asked the meaning of ’”tesito.”  My host father explained that tesito is when everyone joins together and works towards one task.

He said they had a week-long tesito to build a road and a day-long tesito to clear the peanut fields. I asked him what would happen if someone didn’t go. He laughed, “Why would they stay home? Everyone else is working. It is our duty as members of the village to take care of our land.”

The next day, everyone trekked out to the rice fields. Shovels, picks, hand hoes, buckets, lunch bowls, and water in tow; ready for a day of hard work. The community worked hard, digging and transporting dirt around the rice fields as they laughed, gossiped, and complained about the hot sun. The camaraderie and teamwork of the community was refreshing. The culture of working together for a common goal, and accomplishing a task was rewarding for all.

Even now, I’m reminded of the importance of joining forces and doing what is best for my community and environment, even if I don’t see immediate results. It’s not always possible to show the direct benefits of environmental education, regulation, and outreach; similar to the direct benefit of digging a trench around a rice field for a potential flood. All we can really do is join together and work to be good stewards of the earth. Tesito.

Kiang Jali women get water from a village well.

Kiang Jali women get water from a village well.

About the author: Maggie Rudick is an Environmental Protection Specialist in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety Pollution and Protection.

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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Students Lead the Way on Climate Change

In recognition of Asthma Awareness month, we recently had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando where we were greeted by a group of incredibly knowledgeable and passionate students enthusiastic about environmental issues. Our discussion ranged from upcoming legislation and the role of EPA in improving air and water quality to pollution and how we can live healthier, cleaner lives, especially with growing threats from climate change.

The juniors and seniors at Dr. Phillips high school explained to us how they were learning to reduce pollution and environmental health concerns such as asthma.  These kids are doing great work, but Orlando, is not the only place where these students can be found. College Board Statistics showed that at least 118,000 students were enrolled in AP Environmental Science (APES) classes across the country in 2013, which is 10,000 more students than the year before. Interest in the environment is growing among this demographic at an amazing rate. More

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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EPA: Making a Visible Difference in Communities Across the Country

Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”

Making a visible difference in communities is at the heart of EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. It is what drives our workforce to go above and beyond to find that “difference” that improves the lives of individuals, families, and communities across the country. Last month, I invited EPA employees to share stories of the creative and innovative approaches that they have used to educate, engage and empower American families and communities in environmental protection. I’d like to share some of their stories with you with the hope that you too will be inspired to make a difference in your community. More

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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Counting and Calculating while Practicing Conservation: Hubert H. Humphrey School, PS 57, in Staten Island, NY

By Marcia Anderson

Courtyard at PS 57

Courtyard at PS 57

As part of my job with the EPA, I visit a lot of schools promoting Integrated Pest Management, environmental initiatives and sustainability. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Hubert H. Humphrey School, PS 57, in Staten Island, NY, as part of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School awardees’ tour. This school has been recognized locally, regionally and nationally for innovative practices and partnerships in environmental education, energy conservation, climate change, ecological restoration, composting, recycling and gardening.

Environmental and sustainability concepts are integrated throughout the curriculum emphasizing the importance of net zero environmental impacts and the relationship between the environment and personal health.

Lunchroom recycling at PS 57

Lunchroom recycling at PS 57

Composting and recycling are important parts of student life from pre-K through 5th grade at PS 57. Approximately 30 percent of the school’s solid waste has been diverted from landfills. Gardening and composting lessons are regularly integrated into science, math, ELA, nutrition and health classes. Student Recycling Teams collect and weigh recyclables daily. Teachers use data collected by students in computer, math and literacy lessons. These efforts have kept more than 10,000 pounds of paper and milk cartons out of landfills. Their composting program enables the students to take a limited amount of approved lunch scraps, feed them into a vermi worm system and use the final compost in school and community gardens. These composting and recycling programs have won the students and staff the Sanitation Golden Apple Award, Super Recyclers, DEC Water Steward Award, and Ecology Day Awards.

PS 57’s award-winning garden

PS 57’s award-winning garden

Gardening: As participants in Grow NYC, Grow to Learn, and Green Thumb programs, PS 57 students spend six months out of the year planting and growing fruits and vegetables for their school’s cafeteria in their 7,350 square foot outdoor garden. In 2011, the students built a greenhouse in PS 57’s garden from 1,500 recycled two-liter plastic bottles with help from numerous community organizations. The students have won the Green Thumb Award, the NYC Grows Award, and the Garden Cabbage Contest four years in a row.

This school utilizes Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to identify pests which might be of concern. They have developed action thresholds for pests, perform routine cleaning, maintenance, and structural repairs to control pests, and require routine monitoring and documentation of areas of pest concern. One way that students and staff worked together to reduce the use of pesticides and maintenance costs was to use artificial turf in their high use courtyard area. Students designed the outdoor space and then landscape architects and contractors engineered the drainage and built the courtyard. Planting beds were installed for students to plant and maintain ornamental native plants. Maintenance crews do not have to mow the grass or apply pesticides, which makes maintaining the courtyard much less costly and time consuming.

The greenhouse

The greenhouse

Energy conservation: PS 57 students also participate in national programs, including Eco-Schools USA, Cool the Earth and the GSA Green Cup Challenge, through the NYC DOE Sustainability Initiative, that focus on educating students about climate change and energy conservation. The school’s Green Team consists of 40 students, including 4th and 5th graders and special education students. These students are constantly working on energy conservation themed projects. For example, the students analyzed energy readings and discovered that upgrading the school building from incandescent bulbs to LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs, would be the best way to save on energy costs. They worked with school staff to replace 104 300-watt incandescent bulbs with 12-watt LEDs in the cafeteria, auditorium, and hallways. Since 2008, the school has reduced its environmental impacts, cut its GHG emissions, and saved up to 28 percent on energy usage. The fourth grade classes and the school’s Green Team regularly conduct energy audits using kilowatts meters to record and display the amount of energy that their school uses. From the readings they are able to determine where even more energy reduction is possible.

Climate Change: In this region devastated by Hurricane Sandy, we found that the students had been actively researching and designing sea wall barriers and wave pools after studying storm surge and flood maps, since 2009. The 5th graders’ plans to build a sea wall around Staten Island’s low-lying coastal areas won them an invitation to Washington, D.C. to present their proposal to legislators who followed up by investing $500,000 into a study to address beach erosion caused by rising sea levels.

Water Quality: The teachers have also incorporated water and soil testing, plant and tree identification, macro-invertebrate and animal habitat research into the student curriculum. The students use hands-on investigation to analyze and interpret data and to solve environmental issues. This year, as part of an EPA Environmental Education grant, students are working on a 14-month project collecting water quality data from neighboring Eibs Pond.

In addition to the Green Ribbon School’s Award, PS 57 was also recognized with the Green Flag by National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program for exceptional achievement in conserving natural resources and integrating environmental education into the curriculum. PS 57 is the first school in New York City, and only the 10th in the country, to achieve “Green Flag” status. http://www2.ed.gov/programs/green-ribbon-schools/2013-schools/ny-hubert-h-humphrey-ps-057.pdf

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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 Green Light for Learning

By Dustin Renwick

Karoline Johnson shows off the air sensor.

Karoline Johnson shows off the air sensor.

Movies depict bad breath as a green haze, but anyone’s breath can change a new prototype air sensor, developed by EPA researchers, from blue to green to red.

Karoline Johnson, an EPA student services contractor, worked with Gayle Hagler, an EPA environmental engineer, to design an interactive air sensor that provides an opportunity to share science and technology with the public.

Here’s how it works: When a person breathes into the box, the sensor measures the amount of infrared light absorbed by CO2. This measurement is converted into an electric signal that a computer board translates into light. The top of the sensor changes colors based on the presence of increasing amounts of CO2 we expel each time we breathe.

The sensor provides a visual starting point for broader science discussions by transforming abstract subjects into an interactive, physical display.

“We realized there are a lot of different applications for what you can teach the public,” Johnson said. She said the sensor deals directly with air quality and climate science, but it can also serve as a  tool for talking about topics such as human health, computer programming and optics.

Low-cost, portable sensors have the potential to change air quality monitoring by allowing anyone to measure air quality with calibrated devices that require little training and provide real-time data. Current sophisticated air monitors produce accurate results but scientists can’t easily move these large monitors and the costs are prohibitively high for the average person.

Plenty of challenges remain for the next-generation air sensors, including proper calibration, where the data will go, how the data can be used.

But the promise remains. A network of cheaper sensors could give students, community leaders, scientists and university researchers a more complete picture of air quality.

Johnson is currently working on a sensor curriculum and kits that teachers and students can build in their classrooms.

 

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Make Your Child’s Summer A Learning Experience!

By Lina Younes

As the school year comes to an end, children are eagerly making plans to do “fun things” during the summer. In other words, their idea of “fun” is basically anything that doesn’t have to do with getting up early to go to school. So, as parents how do we address this issue? How do we allow them to take a break from school and have fun while ensuring they are doing something constructive?

Well, I saw a Benjamin Franklin quote that inspired me to write this blog: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. I truly think that he was on to something. Studies show that if you engage children in hands-on activities they improve academically and can even develop an interest in the sciences and math! Engaging children through hands-on “real-life activities” makes their learning experience more relevant and meaningful. So, how can we engage children this summer?

How about taking up a hobby that both you and your child enjoy? Have you thought about a cooking class? Your child will learn about math and chemistry in the process while also learning about a new cuisine and good eating habits. How about learning a new instrument? Music helps open the mind and you even have to learn math to have the right rhythm. How about enjoying the great outdoors by taking up hiking or bird-watching?  Have you considered gardening together?

Have you considered engaging in environmental education activities?  How about volunteering with a community organization to clean a local watershed? How about promoting the 3Rs in your community by organizing a recycling program? Actively engaging your child to protect the environment has numerous benefits. Instilling your child with values like the love of nature and environmental awareness will last a lifetime!

As the saying goes, “a mind is a terrible thing to go to waste.” Don’t let the summer months be a wasteful period. Make this summer a fruitful experience for your child, your family and the environment!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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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Volunteering in Costa Rica Provides Lessons For Environmentalism at Home

By Betsy Melenbrink

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

In the midst of a metropolis like New York City or the suburban sprawl of northern New Jersey, it may be difficult to imagine that pristine wilderness exists anywhere. But step under the canopy of a Costa Rican rainforest and you step into a land untouched by the ravages of time. When Spanish conquistadors disembarked on the coast of this land, which they optimistically named “rich”, they found little by way of mineral wealth. This, in addition to the sparse native population (traditionally used by the Spaniards for forced labor) and the dense tropical rainforest, discouraged the conquistadors from making inroads. Consequently, the tiny region attracted few settlers and little interest from the Spanish crown. Costa Rica slipped quietly into a peaceful democracy, marred only by two brief periods of violence in the last century, the second of which ended with the abolishment of the Costa Rican military in 1948. Now Costa Rica regularly comes out at the top of the Happy Planet Index (a rating of the world’s “happiest people”) and typically ranks in the top five “greenest countries” in the world.

Costa Rica is stable, peaceful, and has a good portion of its natural resources intact. It is blessed with beautiful beaches, thunderous rivers, lush tropical rainforests, active and inactive volcanoes alike, diverse flora and fauna, and climate zones that vary with altitude. The picturesque landscape of the country has led to a booming tourism industry, the top contributor to GDP. Most popular are adventure tourism and eco-tourism, which include such activities as whitewater rafting, zip-lining through the rainforest canopy, hiking to the tops of volcanoes, guided tours through the rainforest understory, and at the end of the day relaxing in a local bar with an Imperial (Costa Rica’s national beer) in hand.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Costa Rica decided relatively early on to invest in its natural splendor by creating preserves and national parks. It has developed an extensive education and awareness program, much like existing programs here in the United States. The Ticos (as Costa Ricans are called) are taught to participate in the “4Rs”: recycle, reuse, reduce, and reject. There are recycling campaigns, reforestation movements, and protests against actions that are potentially damaging to the environment, such as open pit mining. Nearly all of the energy used comes from renewable sources and the country aims to be carbon neutral by 2021. However, nearly all of the recycling initiatives, waste management, and environmental education are centered about urban areas. Far removed from this emphasis on environmental protection are the people who live in small rural villages.

I was able to see the limitations of government-sponsored environmental education when I spent several months working in a rural Costa Rican mountain village. Families in this village have limited transportation and waste management options but ample access to rivers. As a result, most of the waste in these areas is either burned (an illegal practice) or placed in the river and then washed downstream where others are forced to cope with polluted water. Since no one lives upstream of them, the families in the village where I stayed were not able to witness the consequences of throwing trash into the rivers and streams. The trash and recycling collection programs in place in more urban areas of Costa Rica do not exist in villages miles away from the nearest paved road. Rivers are simply the most expeditious way of removing waste.

Water bodies are also polluted as a result of erosion from deforestation and the burning of sugarcane fields during the harvest season. Much of the agricultural runoff is also loaded with pesticides and herbicides, further polluting streams. This chemical form of contamination can often go unnoticed and can present a health hazard for those who rely on the streams for potable water, bathing, and washing.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

While it is easy to think that these sorts of problems are restricted to “third world”, or developing, countries like Costa Rica, many of them are mirrored in our own country. There are places where environmental education is not far-reaching, where waste disposal services are not convenient or available, where environmental protection is not a knee-jerk reaction. It is important to note that both in Costa Rica and in the United States, those who pollute the environment are not evil people. Chances are, none of them are out to get Mother Nature. If we truly want to globalize environmental protection, we have to make environmental education universal, give easy access to proper disposal facilities, and provide incentives for behavioral change. And we can start right here at home by setting a good example.

Betsy Melenbrink is an ORISE fellow with the Hazardous Waste Support Section within the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment in Edison. She took a gap year before beginning her undergraduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill and spent that time hiking the Appalachian Trail and volunteering in Costa Rica.

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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P.S. 166 is a Green Elementary School

P.S. 166 Cafeteria Composting Setup

By Karen O’Brien

How much garbage does one school cafeteria generate each day? At P.S. 166, the Richard Rodgers  School of the Arts and Technology on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, elementary school children and school staff have teamed up to reduce their cafeteria garbage from 12 bags per day to just one!  With the assistance of school staff and student monitors, everyone from kindergarteners through fifth graders separate liquid, compost, recyclables and garbage from their breakfast and lunch.  The school has also switched to biodegradable bagasse trays, as an alternative to Styrofoam.  P.S. 166 participated in a 2012 composting pilot project with seven other local schools in Manhattan District 3, reducing the volume of cafeteria waste by 85%, and diverting food waste from landfills each day.

Under the leadership of the Green and Wellness Committee, and with the cooperation of teachers and custodial staff, P.S. 166 has implemented environmentally sustainable practices throughout the school.  Each green program is an excellent opportunity to engage students, teachers, school staff and parents, learning about recycling, pollution prevention, climate change and sustainable living.  Waste reduction and recycling programs at the school include composting food, and recycling bottle caps, electronics, and textiles.

P.S. 166 participates in the Green Cup Energy Conservation Challenge each year, challenging .  students to reduce their energy consumption by turning off lights and unplugging appliances in the class room.  Each class room is assigned two “Climate Captains,” who assume a leadership role ensuring the school does its best to conserve electricity and reduce greenhouse gases.

P.S. 166 won the Green Cup Challenge in 2010 with a reduction in electricity useage over a six month period of 17.75%.  In subsequent years, P.S. 166 has reduced energy consumption even more, but as a mark of progress, this was not enough to take the Cup! In 2011, PS 166 won 4th place and a $10,000 prize for reducing its electricity consumption by 23.3%, saving $2,403 on their electric bill in one month, and prevented 19,815 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment. Other schools are catching on, making the competition fierce for this year’s Green Cup challenge! For more information about greening schools, check out greenschoolsny.com and P.S. 166’s Green page.

About the author: Karen O’Brien is an Environmental Engineer in the Clean Water Division of EPA Region 2.  She holds Master and Bachelor of Engineering degrees from the Cooper Union in New York City, and is a licensed Professional Engineer.  At EPA, Karen works to regulate discharges of wastewater under the Clean Water Act, and has performed temporary assignments in the fields of climate change, pollution prevention, and air quality monitoring.  Karen has three children, two of whom attend P.S. 166!

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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