Emphasis needed on environmental education

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Emphasis needed on environmental education
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By Melvin Alvarez, Alexandria (File photo)

Alexandria City Public Schools possesses enough money to squander $3.5 million on a football field lightning project for T.C. Williams, as reported in Erich Wagner’s September 26 article, “ACPS: Total Cost of T.C. Lights Could Reach $3.5 Million,” but continues to provide limited funding for environmental education.

Alexandria’s School Board should, instead of wasting more than $3 million on lights, fund more training, learning excursions and other environmental education programs in our schools.

In recent decades, the Virginia Department of Education made progress in incorporating environmental education into the learning goals of traditional subjects, such as science and social studies, and the corresponding Standards of Learning tests. The department’s business plan for environmental education is an ambitious piece of legislation that, since 2004, has fostered environmental literacy and increased resources in and outside the classroom.

Implementation of environmental education can be improved by simply mandating pre and in-service certification for educators, since they are in charge and free to implement this initiative any way they please. Research by Linda Plevyak et al. (2001) revealed that teachers that received more pre-service preparation included more environmental education in the classroom and were more confident about implementing these concepts.

Another way to improve environmental education is by emphasizing experience-based curriculum. According to the scholars and innovators David Sobel and John Dewey, positive experiences, not facts, affect individuals more profoundly.

As a recent graduate of T.C. — class of 2011 — I can attest to the power of experience-based learning. I was able to participate in class activities with environmental education content and then take fieldtrips to places like Great Falls. There, the class would put classroom concepts into practice, such as watershed management while examining water quality. Because of these meaningful experiences, I was able to remove my name from the list of at-risk students to join Skidmore College’s class of 2015. I am currently working towards a degree in environmental studies.

Environmental education programs — as documented — improve students’ attitudes toward school. Virginia recognizes the importance of environmental education and is making progress in implementing it.

However, this program always has been very limited by money, which is why there is no required pre and in-service environmental education training for educators and limited funding for educational fieldtrips. If the state cannot provide more funding for it now, local municipalities should take action.

I hope the school board takes into consideration the suggestions of Alexandrians and redirects funding towards environmental education.

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