Environmental Literacy: Supporting a Vibrant and Sustainable Future for Arizona

Grand re-opening of the South Mountain Environmental Education Center today, Saturday, February 13, 2016. Check acncsouthmountain.org for more details. 

By Gabrielle Hebert
By Gabrielle Hebert

Arizona has a thriving and growing emphasis on sustainable living and building conscious lifestyles. Ensuring that the choices adults make today are carried into the future requires helping children understand the contributions they can make both now and as they grow into our workforce and become community leaders. We need our children to become environmentally literate citizens.

Environmentally literate citizens are able to both individually and collaboratively make informed decisions concerning the environment. They are also willing to act on these decisions to improve the wellbeing of other individuals and their local communities, as well as participate in civic life. Improving the wellbeing of people and communities means considering all spheres of sustainability: environment, economic and social.

Students learn about human interactions with desert ecosystems during a field trip to South Mountain Environmental Education Center-resizeEnvironmental education (EE) teaches children how to learn about and investigate their environment and emphasizes direct interactions with nature and outdoor learning environments. Investing students in their own learning in context-specific settings cultivates responsibility and engagement, preparing students to address the challenges, adjustments and opportunities that will be present in their lives.

It’s important to ensure that all of Arizona’s students have equitable and regular access to EE – in the classroom, in out- of-school settings, and at home.

Arizona Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) is leading an effort to develop a state environmental literacy plan. The plan will foster a holistic approach to providing EE opportunities in schools through informal classroom institutions, more access to the outdoors, activities to create ongoing learning at home, and sustainability initiatives. Ultimately, the framework will be used as a guide and collaboration tool for schools, districts and non-formal institutions interested in emphasizing EE in their teaching, as well as for businesses, legislators and community members to support their efforts.

Students learn about the urban watershed and how their actions make a difference.-resizeIn March 2016, an environmental literacy summit was held in several locations across the state to gather stakeholder input for the plan. Representatives from schools, learning institutions, government agencies and businesses came together to provide important perspectives on why a plan is needed, what should be included, and who was missing from the conversation. AAEE is currently working to further stakeholder input and broaden participation.

AAEE is also working to support access to high-quality environmental education by increasing the number of educators that utilize EE strategies and their overall efficacy. An online certification program helps educators to strengthen their competency in EE as well as strengthen the networks that support EE across the state.

For more on the AAEE’s work, visit arizonaee.org.

Gabrielle Hebert is the Director of Education for the Phoenix Zoo, Arizona Center for Nature Conservation and is the co-chair of the Arizona Association for Environmental Education Environmental Literacy Working Group.

Read more articles about education at greenlivingaz.com/education

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