California Schools Getting a Little Greener as Environmental Education Guidelines Roll Out

By EdSource | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), May 4, 2018 | Go to article overview

California Schools Getting a Little Greener as Environmental Education Guidelines Roll Out


EdSource, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


By Carolyn Jones, EdSource

Californians celebrate Earth Day and the ecology movement over the past month, the state’s public schools are making steady progress in implementing some of the most comprehensive environmental education guidelines in the country, educators and environmentalists say.

Buoyed by $4 million in the current state budget for K-12 environmental education, teachers are planning field trips to mountains and beaches, creating lessons on ecosystems and watersheds and showing students how human activity affects the planet. In April, thousands of students turned out for Earth Day events, picking up trash, pulling weeds and planting trees.

“While many states are engaged in strategic efforts to implement environmental education K-12, California is certainly emerging as a leader,” said Sarah Bodor, director of policy and affiliate relations for the North American Association for Environmental Education. “We’re excited to watch as many diverse partners are coming together to ensure that all California students get access to rich, authentic learning that advances environmental literacy and civic engagement.”

In 2015, the State Department of Education published a 48-page plan, called the Blueprint for Environmental Literacy, charting how environmental education will be taught in almost every subject at every grade level. Fourth-graders, for example, when studying California history will also learn about invasive plants brought by the Spanish and how gold mining affected rivers. In science classes, high school students will learn about the changing chemistry of the oceans and how warming air is linked to extreme weather.

The blueprint itself has no timeline and is not mandatory, but environmental principles are part of the frameworks for health and history-social science and are a major component of the new Next Generation Science Standards. Testing on the new science standards begins next year.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson pushed for the environmental guidelines as a way to supplement and expand students’ outdoor education, which some schools have offered informally for years, and encourage future generations to protect the planet.

“The critical environmental concerns that face California demand that we think deeply about how to build a future that is sustainable, healthy, prosperous and equitable,” Torlakson wrote in the Blueprint for Environmental Literacy. “We must invest our very best thinking, our very best efforts and — above all — our very best people in improving the quality and reach of student education for environmental literacy in California.”

In the science standards, every grade level and nearly every unit includes lessons on how humans impact their environment. In kindergarten, for example, students learn how people make choices — such as littering — that affect the water, air and land. In middle school, students learn how energy is transferred in an ecosystem, such as in composting. In high school, students learn about the links between natural resources management, biological diversity and sustainable human societies.

In this year’s state budget, the Legislature allocated $4 million for the California Regional Environmental Education Community Network, a state Department of Education program that links schools with nonprofits and other state agencies to promote K-12 environmental science. Divided into 11 statewide regions, the network offers local information about grants for supplies and field trips, curriculum, field trip options, teacher training and classroom project ideas. The grants, many of which have rolling deadlines, vary depending on the size of the project. Grant-funded projects range from trees and seeds for school gardens, to class pets, to field trips to the ocean to learn about marine biology, coastal habitats and ocean acidification.

The $4 million will be used to promote the guidelines and help teachers implement them. …

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