To get lasting and large-scale change in America and beyond, we need to go directly to the source of future decision makers: our students in public schools. Navigating the public-school systems can be technical and bureaucratic but there are no shortcuts: we need to teach children to be the future stewards of the environment, and we need to do it in a timely, scaled, and leveraged way.
We believe students who are environmentally literate will make informed decisions as consumers and voters, be better stewards of their own environment, and will be equipped to take advantage of green job opportunities. We believe that creating widespread environmental literacy—which we define as knowledge of environmental connections and processes, mastery of problem-solving skills, and a resulting desire for stewardship of natural resources—will form the foundation for a critical mass of environmental protection and stewardship activity.
To achieve this, the State of California’s Department of Education (CDE) and LDF grantee Ten Strands, with the support of the state-appointed Environmental Literacy Steering Committee (ELSC) members and other partners, will implement a model pilot program for leveraged change and capacity building in California to influence more than 350,000 public school students in grades K to 12, with a focus on Los Angeles County public schools. In Los Angeles 7,000 teachers teach 350,000 students, of which at least 212,000 students are considered underserved. We need to harness the biggest, most far-reaching, and most diverse institution in our daily lives—the public schools—to use environment-based stories, projects, and other relevant contexts as part of regular instruction in science, history-social science, English language arts, and other core subjects.
This instructional strategy, called environment- based education, teaches California’s academic content standards to mastery at all grade levels, year after year, while simultaneously making students environmentally literate. It does not require additional classes added to the school day, nor does it hinge on an influx of new teachers. Instead, it integrates seamlessly into teacher training programs, including “in-service” programs, which teachers are required to take in order to fulfill state requirements for continuing education.
Most importantly, this pilot model and capacity-building program will set up systems for future statewide environmental education training for teachers, and assistance in connecting schools across the state with other non-school environmental education providers, such as outdoor education programs, museums, aquaria, zoos, etc.
Our hope is that efforts like this showcase California as a model for investing in and spreading environmental literacy but more largely, contribute to a future healthy and prosperous world that interacts sustainably with its natural environment on every level and in every region.