Environmental Education Bridges the Partisan Divide in Congress

guest blog by Jackie Ostfeld of the Sierra Cluboriginally published in the Huffington Post

Huffpost Stem Teachers

In a welcome break from partisan gridlock, congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle have come together to advance environmental education and outdoor learning opportunities for students across America. Earlier this week, Congressmen John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) reintroduced the No Child Left Inside Act of 2013. If passed, the bill would encourage states to implement environmental literacy plans for K-12 students.

As a former environmental educator myself, I know first-hand the value of learning in and about the environment. I have seen the look of surprise on kids’ faces when they come to understand that water does not starts its journey at the kitchen sink, or when they do something as simple as pull a carrot out of the ground for the first time. I have witnessed classroom teachers marvel at the transformation of some of their most challenging students, who after an outdoor class on forest ecology, suddenly show an aptitude for learning.

Schools and educators are increasingly seeing the value of environmental education which has been shown to improve motivation to learn, self-esteem, critical thinking and academic performance across subject areasResearch has even found that just a few days of outdoor environmental instruction may improve science test scores by as much as 27 percent. Getting outdoors also encourages physical fitness, reduces stress and lessens the symptoms of attention-deficit disorders which, in turn, improve the ability of our students to learn.

“Environmental education must be a national priority,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “Hands-on, outdoor interaction with the environment enhances student achievement — not only in science, but also in reading, math, and social studies. By investing in education that will grow the next generation of innovators, scientists and environmental stewards, we will prepare our workforce of the future to meet the many economic, environmental, and energy-related challenges our country is facing.”

Safeguarding our communities and protecting our air, water and lands from environmental threats will require a sustained effort and a well-educated generation (or two) to respond to challenges with innovative and smart solutions. Today’s youth will have to help tackle future environmental threats as adults, yet our students are not being provided with the basic environmental education foundation needed to address these challenges.

“This bill reflects a larger, overall responsibility to promote environmental stewardship in future generations,” said Fitzpatrick. “Incorporating environmental learning is a down payment on our progress — one that will spur both future scientists and healthier, more conscious citizens.”

Unfortunately, schools are pressed for resources to implement environmental education programming. The No Child Left Inside Act would begin to address this challenge by encouraging states to develop and implement environmental education plans for their K-12 students.

Sierra Club is committed to ensuring that kids and youth have opportunities to explore and enjoy the natural world. Through a vast network of volunteers, Sierra Club’s Inner City Outings program is working hard to give tens of thousands of young people, who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity, meaningful outdoor experiences each year. Sierra Club is proud to support the No Child Left Inside Act to ensure that students across America have similar opportunities to learn in and about the environment.

The No Child Left Inside Act is also supported by the No Child Left Inside coalition and the Outdoors Alliance for Kids.

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