Students are key to solutions facing the economy and the environment
Washington state is a leader in including environmental and sustainability education as part of the K-12 curriculum. These guest columnists argue that young people, armed with this approach, will be better able to deal with the challenges facing the environment.
Special to the Times
WHO hasn't exclaimed "when will we ever learn?" when an event like the Gulf oil tragedy or the meltdown on Wall Street happens? If these avoidable catastrophes are beyond frustrating to adults, imagine the impact on our youth. These crises have far-reaching economic, environmental and social implications and can be overwhelming, or they can be a door to a better future.
Let's ask "how will we learn to build a better tomorrow?"
We suggest a pathway: environmental and sustainability education as a necessary curriculum for the 21st century.
If there is to be a beneficial outcome of the Gulf Coast spill, it will be based on how we leverage our best available educational practices and programs to kick-start green economic activity on the scale needed, while simultaneously reversing life-threatening climate change, toxic pollution and poor health trends. Can we do this? Yes, we are and we hope you will join us.
Washington state is a national leader in sustainability education. Starting in 2005, E3 Washington: Education-Environment-Economy began linking educators and programs in order to develop a new system of education for sustainable communities. This initiative, chaired by Gov. Chris Gregoire, Bill Ruckelshaus and Billy Frank Jr., closely partnered with agencies, tribes, community-based organizations, higher education and businesses to expand K-12 STEM (Science, Engineering, Math and Technology) and career-based education, among other strategies for improvement.
Two among the many initiatives that have emerged are worth noting.
Washington is the first state in the nation to have environmental and sustainability education, including systems thinking, woven across the standards that guide K-12 science teaching and learning.
Ours is also the first state to develop and implement K-12 environmental and sustainability education standards and a specialty endorsement for teachers to teach to these standards.
Redmond High School is one example of how support for teachers results in breakthroughs for student learning and achievement. Redmond High recently received a $25,000 award from the National Education Association Foundation for its innovations, including an Advanced Placement Environmental Science course that almost 50 percent of students in the school take and receive up to 9 college credits.
Redmond High together with Puget Sound Energy, Washington Department of Ecology and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency also designed the Cool School Challenge. Today, students across the United States are measuring and reducing their school's carbon footprint through this program. Redmond High alone reduced its carbon footprint to almost 50 percent below the Kyoto Accord, saving almost $40,000 a year in the process.
Here's what can be done to further these efforts.
• At the personal level, learn how to make your impact on the planet a positive one through online resources or local environmental education centers.
• At the local level, find out whether environmental and sustainability education is taught at your child's preschool or K-12 school. Is there a teacher, faculty member or administrator who is leading this effort? Find ways to show your support within your community.
• At the state and national levels, find environmental and sustainability education programs and ways to get involved through programs like the E3 Washington and OSPI websites.
Support national initiatives such as The No Child Left Inside Act, supported by Earth Day Network and thousands of other organizations.
Imagine a future where you get to exclaim, "Wow, we finally learned and generations to come will be the beneficiaries."
Isn't that the legacy we actually prefer to leave behind?
Gilda Wheeler is the program supervisor for Environmental and Sustainability Education at the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Mike Town teaches AP Environmental Science at Redmond High School. Abby Ruskey is the executive director of EEAW/E3 Washington.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.