Nikia Washington

This user hasn't shared any profile information

Posts by Nikia Washington

Sustainability in the classroom: teaching green

by: Nikia Washington

Environmental Education is currently waiting to be introduced to the United States education system. Recent awareness has drawn national attention and legislation is underway, with the hopes that environmentally aware children will lead to a greener future for our country.

“Will they have pink water suits and waiters?” was the first question sixth grader Gabrielle Aquindo asked when she heard she would be drudging through the polluted Maumee River, with boots that meet her waist and river water past her knees.

Teri Fisher’s sixth grade class at St. Benedict Catholic School will be participating in the General Motors G.R.E.E.N. (Global River Environmental Education Network) program on May 2nd. The G.R.E.E.N. program, which is a partnership between General Motors Toledo and the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments(T.M.A.C.O.G.), gives students the opportunity to explore the Maumee River and its life forms, all while learning about the large amount of pollution it holds.

Students from Jackman Elementary work with GM volunteers during a GREEN project last year. Photo courtesy of Janet Kruse.

“[G.R.E.E.N.] takes them from the classroom and gets them out in the field,” said Matt Horvat, coordinator of the Student Watershed Watch for TMACOG. “Many of these kids have never even been near a stream.”

Horvat, who has worked with TMACOG for the past 10 years, is a supporter of environmental education being implemented into the curriculum of United States schools.  Currently, the United States Department of Education, led by advocates for the curriculum change, is battling to introduce environmental education into the country’s elementary and secondary curriculum. Meanwhile, the lack of the subject raises awareness.

A commonly accepted saying is that the children are the future. But what does the future hold for this world when environmental issues such as global warming, oil depletion, and pollution haunt every decision we make? This is the question many environmentally aware individuals and organizations are asking.

In an article titled “The Concept of Environmental Education(EE)” by William B. Stapp, a former professor at the University of Michigan who is considered by most to be the founder of international environmental education, Environmental Education is defined as education with an aim to produce citizens who are knowledgeable about the environment, its concerns, and how to solve them.

This chart shows that the world's most enviromentally friendly countries all have some form of environmental education.Information of courtesy of

In 2007, a group who went by the ‘No Child Left Inside Coalition’ presented the first national effort to immerse environmental education into the U.S. schools system. The bill, titled the No Child Left Inside Act, was passed by the House of Representatives, but was not passed by the Senate. However, the legislation was adapted by a number individual state governments. The No Child Left Inside movement is still currently active, with over 200 co-sponsoring organization, including the Sierra Club.

“How do we get them [children] excited about coming to school every single day,” said Arnie Dunkin, secretary of the department of education, at the First White House Summit on Environmental Education held on April 16, 2012. “I actually think EE can be a huge tool to doing that.” The United States now carries a dropout rate of 25 percent and possesses a large achievement gap. Some government officials feel environmental education can help to improve these statistics.

Students from Jackman Elementary work with GM volunteers during a GREEN project last year. Photo courtesy of Janet Kruse.

Studies show that students with environmental experiences have better performance in the classroom. Maryland Congressman and environmental education advocate John Sarbanes said educators have pointed out that student achievement sores when environmental education is programmed into the student’s curriculum.

Historically, students who have taken the SAT and ACT have tested lowest in the science section, as reported by

Janet Kruse, coordinator for General Motors Toledo’s GREEN program said, “GREEN makes science and engineering really exciting to them and helps them gain an interest in the science field.”

Fischer, who once taught science and now teaches English and religion, feels that her students enjoy learning about the environment and how they can protect the Earth.

“I’ve never had a kid that felt like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t pertain to me,” said Fischer. “They care about it.”

11-year-old Megan Miller, one of Fischer’s students who appeared meek at first, spoke strongly about the affect she is having on the environment through her everyday actions.

“I think all of us know that when we do help the environment, we’re not just helping one person,” she said. “We’re helping all of us, because if we don’t do that, we’re not going to be here.”

St. Benedict Catholic School, which houses preschool through eighth grade classrooms, incorporates environmental education into their curriculum through their religious teachings, as well as personal passion teachers may wish to share. However, Fischer feels non-religious institutes can also greatly benefit from learning about the current issues which our world faces.

“I think it’s important that we work really hard to let kids know that we all have a responsibility to protect the Earth and respect and protect our resource,” she said. “Because they’re not always going to be here.”

“I don’t think we’ve historically done enough in this area,” Dunkin said at the summit, on educating youth on the environment.

Environmental Education is also beneficial to the future of U.S. students, as more jobs are opening in the field. Deputy Secretary for the Department of Interior, David Hayes, said that in the past year more than 22,000 young people, ages 15-25 have, been employed in environmental environments. Dunkin agreed, as he stated many of today’s and tomorrow’s jobs are in the area of environmental sustainability.

“We have to prepare them for jobs of the future,” he said.

Another positive aspect of environmental education is that it does not stop at the classroom – what students learn at school is applicable to their daily lifestyles.

“I have my own recycling bin in my room,” said Elizabeth Pierson, 6th grade student at St. Benedict in Fischer’s homeroom class. She said also uses the following phrase often: Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Classmate Rheanna McDowell says she encourages her siblings to recycle and save energy, and her parents uphold a similar philosophy.

“My family does recycle cans and paper,” she said. “My mom always tells me every day to make sure I recycle my paper, so other people can reuse it.”

While there are many who are pushing for environment in the classroom, there are just as many who oppose the idea of the topic being implemented into the U.S. school system. Funding, political agendas, and overall effectiveness are the arguments naysayers are using.

It was reported by that Representative Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) said environmental education is a special interest topic and it should not be imposed on the education system by our government.

Another common complaint is that the funds, which will go into providing environmental education curriculum, which will be an expensive venture, will be a waste. There is a fear that even with environmental education, students will continue to lead the same lifestyle, doing nothing more to better the Earth.

Despite the criticism the potential new program has received, supporters continue to push forward with strong beliefs that this addition to the curriculum will benefit students and the community.

“America’s great outdoors is the greatest classroom we can have for teaching environmental education,” said Hayes.

Dunkin added, “[Children] want to know what they’re doing in these classroom is relevant to their communities.”

Fischer prepares her students for their river excursion by discussing environmental topics daily, with a specific focus on water sanitation.

“We’ve been talking about the project a lot,” said Fischer’s 12-year-old student, Thomas Brown.

“I can just imagine finding cans in the river,” Aquindo said, completely oblivious to how much pollution the Maumee and similar rivers hold.

St. Benedict is one of the few schools which has already adapted the environmental education plan. Movement towards linking our entire education system to the environment is slowly, but surely occurring. This past week, the first award ceremony was held for Green Ribbon Schools, recognizing schools that participate in promoting a healthy environment. Dunkin believes progress towards green education will soon begin moving rapidly.

“I think we’re on the cusp of something that’s really exciting,” he said.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson informed participants at the White House Environmental Education summit that the first Earth Day was a sit-in – a form of education. Just as Earth Day has grown into an internationally celebrated holiday, she believes the same level of growth can happen for environmental education.

“If YouTube can make those “Charlie Bit Me” kids famous then we can make climate change famous too,” Jackson said.




First Annual White House Summit of Environmental Education



White House Summit on EE – Part 2 

Catch up on the events of the 2012 Environmental Education week here.

Change Often

This I Believe – Change Often

As I lie on the bench face down, I hear a switch clicked on followed by a consistent buzzing sound. A buzzing sound that makes my body tighten and my hands clammy. The buzzing is subtle. However, it has the same effect on me as nails on chalk board – It makes me cringe. My hands latch on to my sorority sister’s hands, who is sitting in front of me on a stool. A man named “Digger” holds the noisy object in one hand, while wiping a wet cloth along my back.

Are you ready? He asked.

I told him yes, ready as I’ll ever be. I’m only ready because I truly stand by the motto that is about to permanently etch into my skin – “Change is growth”. Given the fact that this is my first tattoo and my emotional state in life at this time, I think it is fitting.

The needle touches my back. My hand grip tightens. I close my eyes.


It’s ironic. I feel that since I received that tattoo, I have been faced repeatedly with the concept of “change.” People fear change because it is different. They fear the discomfort of the process. They fear the receptiveness of those who will have the accept it.

Change is scary. I can’t pretend that I don’t believe that. But in life, things are constantly changing – the world, cultures, the environments, policies. To stand still in a world that is changing so fast is just as dangerous as lying in the middle of a busy street in the dark of the night. Cars are not going to stop for you. You’re going get run over. You’re going to get passed by.

My philosophy is that is something remains the same for so long, it is consistent. Consistency only attracts the usual crowd. Change draws attention. Consistency allows people to go through the same motions over and over. Change causes people to ask questions and challenge the process. Consistency tolerates sitting comfortably in the same position until someone comes to move you. Change forces people to move forward, become stronger, and grow.

Winston Churchill once said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

I believe change is growth.

Blazing personality triumphs over fiery memories

Zack Wilkins sits in his living room with his family showing off his scars. Photo by Nikia Washington

By Nikia Washington

Like any average pre-teenage boy would be, Zack Wilkins is quieted by a game on his mother’s tablet for most of the ride to Cincinnati. Occasionally, he is heard asking his mother a question, or chatting with his grandmother who is sitting a row up from him, but for the majority of the trip he is silent. A stranger would guess nerves kept the 14-year-old in a hushed state, as he is the sole reason for the three hour ride to the  Shriners Hospital for Children. However, worries of the day’s events are the furthest thing from Zack’s mind. Its 9 a.m. in the morning and Zack is simply tired.

Stepping out of the van doors, and into the hospital lobby, the energetic, talkative Zack is now fully alert. He is joking and smiling as he strides nonchalantly into the treatment center – a silent insult to the other children who fear entering this building.

Just a year and half ago Zack could relate to those kids. Being recently traumatized by the event that would change his life, this would have been the last place he wanted to be.


In July of 2010, Zack and a younger cousin attempted to construct a bonfire in their grandmother’s backyard.

“It just felt really hot and I thought I was too close,” said Zack. Moments after feeling the heat, his cousin pointed out his pants had caught fire.

In the next minute and thirty seconds the two boys attempted to put out the fire by hand and water – neither were successful as the fire fought back. Zack eventually ran into the house and hopped in the tub, as instructed by his panicked grandmother, seizing the flames.

“With older kids, you’ll see misusing of gasoline or campfires” said Louise Hoelker, Shriners Director of Volunteers and Public Affaris. “Especially with boys.”

Zack believes gas from the can he used to ignite the bonfire dripped onto his pants, allowing the flame to catch easily.

“[Firefighters] said if I was on fire for any longer, it would have been to the bone,” Zack said. After an ambulance ride to Tiffin Hospital and a life flight to Toledo St. Vincent’s, Zack and his family were informed he had severe third degree burns.

“Burns severity is measured by how long a person is on fire,” said Tresa Wilkins, Zack’s mother. “Anything after a minute is usually third degree.”

Zack’s parents were not present at the scene of their sons injury, but arrived at the hospital soon after. Steve Wilkins, Zack’s father who instantly booked a flight back home from a North Carolina business trip upon hearing the news, said he didn’t know what to expect.


“It was rough,” he said, of when he finally reached Zack. “Seeing him all bandaged up was hard.”

Tresa, who arrived first at Tiffin Hospital and then had to travel to Toledo after Zack was life flighted, waited hours to know the severity of her son’s injuries.

“The nurse said ‘It’s bad, that’s all burnt skin,” she said, recalling the first time she saw Zack after the fire. His legs were under a thin white blanket and Tresa could make out the black skin underneath.

“If it’s first or second degree it will heal on its own,” said Hoelker. “If it’s third degree it won’t.  Eventually they need to take [the dead skin] off and put good skin on.”

Zack Wilkins' right leg received the most of the burn during the bonfire accident. Scars from the skin grafts starting mid calf and extend to his upper thigh. Photo by Nikia Washington.

Zack’s skin grafts took place soon after his arrival to the hospital. He still grimaces at the thought of the procedure.

“They said all they were going to do is take skin from my left leg and move it over to the burns,” he said. He remembers complying with a simple ‘O.K.,’ naïve of the intensity of the surgery.

“I didn’t know how bad it was going to hurt.”

Days, weeks, and months after that first surgery, frequent occurrences which would leave painful memories flooded Zack’s healing process.

“I lost my voice in the hospital from a lot from screaming,” Zack said, with the sense of accomplishment a boy his age would use when announcing he caught his first fish or scored his first touchdown.

Tresa, much less enthusiastic about the traumatic experiences, vividly remembers Zack being extremely vocal during his first shower where nurses scraped off the dead skin.

“That was one of the times where we had to walk out and leave him with the nurses,” she said. Seeing him in that amount of pain was unbearable.

Steve said Zack would calm down when he and Teresa were not around. Zack responded that whenever they left the room he felt like there was no point in screaming – there was no longer anyone there to save him.

Due to the severity of his injuries, Zack was rehabilitated during his initial three week hospital stay, and following his release. One of the skills he had to relearn was how to walk.

“The first time they sent him out to walk around the ward he almost collapsed,” Steve said.

Zack’s burns wrapped around his right knee, an area that is commonly known as one of the most difficult burn areas to heal and one of the most painful.

Occurrence likes these defined Zack’s life for at least a year after the bonfire accident; his rambunctious personality was affected as well. Zack’s younger sisters, Cheyenne, 12, and Madison, 10, would normally describe Zack as playful, funny, sometimes annoying, and protective.

“He was a lot quieter and didn’t smile much anymore,” Madison said, reflecting on Zack’s first weeks back home.

Cheyenne agreed saying his sense of humor was not the same. The two girls, along with Zack’s older brother, Nick, helped out with Zack when they could, but did not like seeing their brother in so much pain. Zack said one of the worst parts of the healing was when his dressings had to be changed.

“I had never heard him scream like that,” Cheyenne said.

“We had to go next door and tell the neighbors we weren’t hurting him,” Steve said. “That’s how bad it was.”

When Zack returned to school from summer break, he was still undergoing the healing process, which also caused complications at school. Some teachers did not understand Zack had a temporary physical disability and that he could not participate in activities such as gym class. Others did not comply with restrictions that were made to assist his healing.

“His injury did distract him from learning,” Steve said. During the healing process, Zack missed several days of school for checkups and appointments. However, with after school tutoring, Zack stayed caught up with the curriculum.

Other than the academic struggles at school, students were aware something had changed Zack over summer break. He had to wear compression stockings everyday to keep his bandages in place and he was obviously receiving special treatment in classes. But when his friends or other classmate asked questions, Zack had no problem answering.

“They asked how painful was it and did I scream,” Zack said. He chuckled slightly when he said he responded, “Yeah, I screamed a lot!”

Zack was also comfortable showing his wounds to friends.

“Some of them thought it looked cool, some of them thought it look weird,” Zack said confidently. It’s evident none of his physical changes bother him.

Zack’s parents agreed that throughout this entire process Zack has been as positive as a kid can be for someone who has endured an experience of such magnitude. Last year, he was invited by Toledo St. Vincent’s Hospital to attend the National Burn Conference in Galveston, TX based on his optimistic outlook during his hospital stay. Zack and his mother enjoyed the all expense paid trip, where Zack met many celebrity burn survivors.

Zack Wilkins, and his younger sisters Cheyenne (left) and Madison (right) joke around in their family room while watching T.V. Photo by Nikia Washington

Still, a year and half after his accident, the healing process continues for Zack. He and his mother came to Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati, a Verified Burn Unit by the American Burn Association, in hope of finding an alternative surgery for the skin behind his right knee which is not healing correctly.

After Zack’s appointment he sits down for lunch with his mother, grandmother, and a few gentlemen from the Zenobia Shriners, which support the funding of the hospital. While eating, Zack casually discusses the results from the consultation he had today and, somehow, the conversation gets on the topic of scars. He and his mother laugh about something his father told him – chicks dig scars.

Zack grins big.

“Well I’m gonna have a lot of chicks,” Zack says. “Because I have a lot of scars.”



Most burns that occur are preventable.

February 5- 12th, 2012 is National Burn Awareness Week.

Celebrate, Practice Fire Safety, and Raise Awareness.

Nikia J. Washington

My name Nikia Washington, commonly known  as Kia. I am a print journalism student, with a passion for writing, which essentially lead me to this field of study. On Bowling Green’s campus, I participate as a assistant director of Dance Marathon and a videographer for the BG Football team. I am also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., where I serve as the philanthropy chair.

I am originally from Cleveland, OH, but have lived in Farmington Hills, Mich. for the past 12 years. As the oldest of three children, I am the first to be shipped off to college.

In my experience as an aspiring journalist I have worked with BG-24, BG on TV and the Key and Obsidian magazines. I also worked briefly for the start up of a magazine in the Washington, D.C. area. Lately, I have been exploring writing fiction, which is quickly becoming a new hobby of mine. My ideal job is to work my way up through a magazine production company and to eventually, establish my own.

Nikia Washington's RSS Feed
Go to Top
Skip to toolbar