By Christina Catanese
While typical city kids spend their summer vacations far away both from school and nature, this year more than seventy students in three cities in the Mid-Atlantic Region participated in EPA’s Student Environmental Development Program (SEDP). This six-week program held every summer provides environmental and leadership training to eighth-grade students in the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC metropolis areas.
The students (a diverse group of high-achieving rising 8th graders) had classes taught by experienced professionals from EPA and their local communities, providing the real world perspective of a college course at a much younger age. They covered a wide variety of environmental issues (from air pollution to lead to children’s asthma) and emphasized those directly relevant to the students’ communities. On the water side, students had modules on groundwater pollution, ocean science, and learned about the condition of the watersheds where they live. Field trips supplemented the classroom learning and provided firsthand experience with nature to kids who don’t get the opportunity on a regular basis. They also had workshops to cultivate leadership skills, such as public speaking and team building, so that they could better share the environmental knowledge they gained with others.
At the end of the program, the students perform self-developed skits on a topic of their choice at EPA Headquarters in Washington. This year, students presented their skits for EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe (in the past EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has also participated in the event). It was thrilling to watch the students transform from talking quietly and nervously in front of the group at the beginning of the program, to speaking with poise in front of such high level EPA officials – a great opportunity for growth!
Since SEDP began in 1993, 1,140 students have completed the program. And with the knowledge and excitement the students have brought back to their communities, the ripple effect has surely been felt far beyond just the students who directly participate.
I know I would have loved a program like this when I was in 8th grade, so if you know an aspiring middle school student who would enjoy participating in SEDP (or if you are interested in learning more about the program yourself), visit the program’s website for more information: http://www.epa.gov/region03/ee/sedp.htm
EPA thinks it is crucial to educate the next generation of environmental leaders, as well as learn from their fresh ideas and perspectives. What are your children or other young people in your community doing to help the environment? What can they teach you about environmental protection?
About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.