How Does Healthy Sound to You?

By Maryann Helferty

When one visits a place, often one hears a language unique to that location. On a warm day last May, I listened to a team of interpreters in a Philadelphia park. We were not learning a spoken language but rather the language of healthy streams, diverse forest and plant communities, even the complex signals of birds.

Here in the mid-Atlantic, many families live in cities and suburbs. Land use patterns distance people from the natural world, making it too easy for youth to adopt sedentary lives, missing out on unstructured outdoor play. Among the many benefits of being outdoors is physical exercise. According to the White House “Let’s Move” Initiative, doctors, teachers, and other professionals agree that outdoor activity is one of the easiest and most fun ways to get–and stay– fit.

Federal agencies in the mid-Atlantic region are promoting new ways to connect youth with healthier lifestyles and with the environment. Environmental education can serve two purposes: training the next generation of environmental stewards and creating active learning opportunities. For example, the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program trains people with a passion for the natural world. They participate in an intensive training program and use their knowledge to give back to the community through volunteer service. Click on the link below to JUMP into the stream with them!

Since 2010, high school students from Philadelphia, Pa. and Camden NJ have joined an apprentice program to prepare for green jobs in museum education. Trainings for Master Naturalists are held in the field where students experience the value of teamwork and the commitment of learning – in all kinds of weather. The program builds ties between generations as members of the Senior Environment Corps also get involved in service learning. In partnership with a number of federal and state agencies, the Master Naturalist program is coordinated by the Pennsylvania Institute for Conservation Education.  Note the 2012 application deadline is February 17th for the 2012 Philadelphia County sessions. Help spread the word!

When you think of your special place in the Mid-Atlantic, who taught you what made it special? How do you pass on your sense of place to others?

About the author: Maryann Helferty is an Environmental Scientist with the Office of Environmental Innovation for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region. In her work on drinking water protection and sustainability, she blends science and education tools to promote the Environment, Social Equity and a Sustainable Economy.

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