The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) sees itself as the backbone and champion of the environmental education field. It is a nationwide field catalyst that empowers community-based partners and educators in both the formal and non-formal sectors through its strong system of networks.
This week we spoke with Judy Braus, Executive Director of the NAAEE, and has experience working to strengthen networks and build support to advance environmental education and conservation.
Green Guardians asked Judy about the state of environmental education in the US today and her response was one of both alarm and optimism. At the core of the issues, Judy states that environmental education is not as supported as it should be, and is severely under-funded. She points to the lack of a comprehensive national plan and the decentralized nature of the US as being one of the key hindrances to progress in the field.
Judy is also concerned about the lack of civic education and the importance of helping people understand their roles and responsibilities with being part of a democracy. “Civic engagement is a core outcome of environmental education—and we need to help people gain the knowledge and skills to be an engaged and informed citizen and work individually and collectively to strengthen our communities. At the same time, she’s hopeful, “This is the most environmentally literate citizenry we’ve ever had. For example, most people know and care about climate change and so many other environmental threats.”
Judy highlights some of the necessary components to build a strong environmental education ecosystem to be funding, policies, professional development, high-quality interdisciplinary curriculum, evaluation and metrics, equitable access to the outdoors, a focus on equity and inclusion in the field, and society-wide buy-in. Judy sees strong networks as the glue holding this ecosystem together and a bridge between state and local actors.
NAAEE is a network of networks. Its goal is to advance environmental literacy and civic engagement to create a more equitable and sustainable future for everyone. In Judy’s words, “we are all about partnerships and building a more inclusive movement!” Building partnerships and creating a network of engaged and diverse stakeholders across sectors has been at the forefront of Judy’s work with NAAEE.
Through its Affiliate Network, NAAEE works with its partners to advocate at the state and local level to get funding, write proposals, apply for grants, and engage in fundraising with foundations and other philanthropic organizations. The Affiliate Network also works with individual states, provinces, and regions to develop and implement environmental literacy plans and strengthen environmental education in formal and non-formal settings. While Judy believes we need a more coherent national approach towards environmental education, she also acknowledges that some of the best education happens at the local level where relevant issues can be identified and properly addressed. And all our efforts, she says, need to be informed from effective practice around the world.
She believes that the interplay between the non-formal and formal sectors is crucial. Judy explains that “Schools are not isolated units in society. We have to look cross-sectoral and understand that we need to think about education throughout society, including early childhood, K-12, higher education, and all the places the people learn outside of our formal system. Judy points out that educators need more training on how to facilitate learning and work with others to support interdisciplinary instruction and community engagement. “Interdisciplinary education is the way the world works. The world is not segmented into disciplines. To solve the most pressing environmental issues of our day, we have to educate young people through an interdisciplinary approach, and this is what environmental education has been doing for years.”
Through eePro, NAAEE’s online learning hub, educators can access resources, discussion groups, a research database, and more. In addition, more than a dozen states offer certification programs through its Affiliate Network and NAAEE accredits these programs to ensure that they meet the Guidelines for Excellence. In addition, NAAEE has worked with its partners to engage educators around the world in professional development initiatives, from webinars to workshops, and has focused on an experiential and interdisciplinary approach that reaches both the formal and non-formal sectors.
Through the leadership of NAAEE’s team and partners and a number of innovative initiatives, the organization is working to bring together individuals and organizations from across disciplines to advance environmental education in all sectors. “The field of environmental education is not challenged with a dearth of ideas; it’s challenged by a capacity to deliver,” Judy states. Funding remains a critical barrier to advancement in the field. By drawing resources from the corporate and philanthropic worlds, advocating at all levels of government, and increasing its networks’ capacity to be heard and take action, NAAEE is making great strides.
“We’re are thankful that there are so many incredible people and organizations and agencies in the environmental education and civic engagement fields. Our board is amazing, our staff is amazing, and our networks keep us all engaged and inspired!”Judy Braus
Few other field catalysts are doing as much as NAAEE. You can find out more about them and see whether joining one of their networks can help advance your mission here.
The ACE Framework is a set of recommendations and tools to accelerate climate action and advance people-centered climate policies through increasing public awareness, building local capability, enhancing information sharing, encouraging innovation and beneficial behavioral norms, and promoting ongoing engagement. The objective of this framework is to guide the completion of a national strategic plan in time for delivery at the 26th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in November 2021.
Disneynature has educational materials for curriculum, lesson plans, and fun activities that continue the viewing experience for families and students grades 2-6 while inspiring a desire to protect the planet through connections to nature.
An initiative led by NAAEE through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. EPA and seven partner organizations to support a nationwide effort to strengthen the field of environmental education and support professional development.
The 1993 publication by Judy Braus and David Wood from the U.S. Peace Corps on developing and implementing an environmental education program by helping practitioners identify goals and objectives for environmental education activities and curriculum and to develop formal and informal techniques to evaluate success.
GEEP’s mission is to create a vibrant and inclusive learning network designed to strengthen environmental education globally to create a more sustainable future for all. Its goal is a world where environmental and social responsibility drives individual, community, and institutional choices.
This site includes a list of resources, including resources developed by NAAEE, designed to help educators and learners of all ages center equity in their work in the field of environmental education.
NNOCCI is a network of individuals and organizations in informal education, the social sciences, and climate sciences. We are currently working in 184 institutions in 38 states.
The Natural Start Alliance is a network of people and organizations that believe that all young children need frequent opportunities to experience, learn from, and care for nature and the environment through high-quality education. The Alliance, a project of the North American Association for Environmental Education, serves as a backbone organization to focus and amplify the collective impact of the people and organizations that share this common vision.
The National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education, initiated by NAAEE in 1994, has developed a series of guidelines that set the standards for high-quality environmental education.
Project Learning Tree is an award-winning environmental education program designed for teachers and other educators, parents, and community leaders working with youth from preschool through grade 12.