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Maryland Schools Get Greener: The Facts

Do your kids wish they were back in school yet? Not likely I’m sure, but that may change in the next few years because of a recent decision by the Maryland Board of Education to require environmental literacy for all students. This precedent-setting action will ensure all students in Maryland’s public school system have the opportunity to experience an environmental education program that supports existing curriculum by providing an authentic, engaging and, dare I say, fun context for learning core subjects such as math, science and language arts. The context is the environment we live in, how it impacts us and how we can influence its health and recovery. Studies have shown, and maybe you have witnessed this yourself, that when students are investigating their local environment whether using a net and a bucket, a book, or as part of a conservation project, they are more engaged in their learning and in turn, perform better in school.

And that’s just part of the reason this landmark action is good for Maryland schools and our students. As these programs develop within local school systems, it is very likely students, especially younger ones, will have more opportunities to learn outdoors. Field-based activities help foster improved creativity and problem-solving abilities as well as provide physical challenges that increase dexterity and serve as good models of a more active and healthy lifestyle. Older students will have opportunities to investigate all sides of an important environmental issue and implement an action project that they believe will make a difference in their community. These projects will provide real world application of all subject matter and help prepare graduates for a fast changing job market, especially in the growing field of green jobs.

Of course change is never easy and this recent milestone has conjured up its fair share of critics and concerns. Here are a few true and false questions that highlight an attempt to diffuse concerns we’ve heard about these changes to date.

TRUE or FALSE

1. Teaching environmental literacy will detract from school’s abilities to cover core subjects such as math, science and reading. FALSE

Environmental education will be infused with the existing curriculum and enhance instruction. There is no required new course or test needed to graduate. Maryland schools have been ranked # 1 by Education Week for three years running. Strong environmental education programs that already exist in many schools are one reason among many that help keep Maryland schools tops in the nation!

2. The state is mandating specific content and school systems will have little flexibility in its implementation. FALSE

This new requirement is designed to allow local school systems to design environmental literacy programs unique to their region and available resources and that support existing education initiatives such as STEM and service learning. MSDE is currently developing guidance for local school systems to aid in the development of high quality programs but it will not dictate curriculum.

3. This new requirement will promote only one side of environment issues such as climate change or global warming. FALSE

This requirement uses current environmental issues to help students build an understanding of key concepts, primarily in science and social studies, that enables them to ask the right questions and make informed decisions about the environment. This is not about teaching conclusions; it is about having the knowledge and skills to draw conclusions from a wide array of information sources.

4. This requirement has the potential to bring new funding and resources to our schools and classrooms. TRUE.

While it is also true there is no new state funding for this requirement in the near term, there is a long track record of community partnerships, public/private funding opportunities and the potential for new federal dollars that support many of the components of environmental literacy programs. The Chesapeake Bay Trust awards over $800,000 annual in support of environmental education efforts in Maryland schools to increase outdoor learning and help develop model programs within local school systems. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education has identified environmental education as a priority in their Well Rounded Education funding programs and there is bi-partisan support to include funding for environmental education in the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Maryland will be first in line for those funds should they become available!

For more information on environmental education in Maryland, visit:

Baybackpack
No Child Left Inside Coalition
Maryland Department of Education
Maryland Association For Environmental and Outdoor Education
Chesapeake Bay Trust Environmental Education Resources

To help fund environmental education in the watershed, join our Causes page.


Jamie Baxter is the Program Director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust. He can be reached at 410-974-2941, ext. 105 or at jbaxter@cbtrust.org.