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.