Advancing Environmental Literacy through Partnerships

This week, we want to highlight the importance of creating partnerships between the formal and nonformal education sectors to advance environmental literacy across the nation. We have had discussions with knowledge leaders Judy Braus, Andra Yeghoian, and Jason Morris about this topic, so we wanted to revisit the benefits of these partnerships, and how they can provide a holistic environmental literacy solution and positive outcomes for all K-12 students across the US.

Judy Braus, Executive Director of the NAAEE, core work has revolved around strengthening networks and building support for the advancement of environmental education and conservation. Judy notes that the necessary components to build a strong environmental education ecosystem are 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 the environmental education ecosystem together and a bridge between state and local actors.  

Judy believes that the interplay between the non-formal and formal education sectors is crucial for the advancement of environmental literacy. 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 Braus

Jason Morris, the Senior Program Officer for the Environmental Education Program at Pisces Foundation, where he works to identify and fund “backbone organizations” expressed a similar sentiment, “We need to aggregate this work so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Jason believes there is a need to increase networking between states, among states, and that greater leadership is needed from the federal level.

A common thread of belief between the environmental education knowledge leaders we have interviewed is that the field lacks “connective tissue”. Utilizing resources from formal and nonformal education as well as the public and private sector creates more opportunities to network and acquire funding for environmental literacy initiatives across the country. Without a public and private partnership between philanthropy and federal and state funding streams, it becomes a lot harder to implement these initiatives due to a lack of resources and competition for the few resources that do exist. This is at the heart of Pisces Foundation’s mission, as Jason stated,

“We are trying to create those connections between the key nodes of strategic work going on because a school partnering with a non-profit, partnering with a CBP is stronger than any three of those things by themselves.”

Jason Morris

Andra Yeghoian, the Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Coordinator at San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE), is passionate about the idea of collaboration as she has driven change from the classroom to the site, county, and state levels through environmental literacy. When examining the current state of environmental literacy and sustainability in the formal K-12 sector, Andra acknowledges that there are areas of improvement when it comes to resource utilization and institutional change, and suggests we start by having educators and administrators build relationships with green leaders and stakeholders.

To better support environmental literacy initiatives for students and teachers, administrators need capacity-building tools for environmental literacy and sustainability. When the formal and nonformal education sectors collaborate, they can complement one another; both provide expertise and resources that the other needs. Working symbiotically on providing resources for educators and creating learning experiences for students that connect the classroom to field-based programs, they can effectively take advantage of each other’s resources.

As Andra mentioned in our interview, the education system is fundamental to our cultural narrative, so to make a paradigm shift happen in the field of environmental education, we must make sure the education system is on board. By creating partnerships between the formal and nonformal education sectors, there are more game changers keeping their eye on the environmental literacy landscape and providing insight for growth across the board.

“That is the reason to invest in formal education. The true leverage point for change in a society is through education.”

Andra Yeghoian

Funding and resources remain a critical barrier to the advancement of environmental literacy. But, by drawing resources from the corporate and philanthropic worlds, advocating at all levels of government, and increasing local networks’ capacity to provide new learning experiences, there is a future where environmental literacy is at the forefront of every child’s education.

Relevant Links

Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (AEOE) – AEOE is a statewide organization that was created by and for outdoor and environmental educators. It is the California affiliate for the North American Association of Environmental Educators (NAAEE), its mission is to advance the impact of environmental and outdoor education in California.

North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) – NAAEE uses the power of education to advance environmental literacy and civic engagement to create a more equitable and sustainable future. It works with educators, policymakers, and partners throughout the world. 

Pisces Foundation – The Pisces Foundation provides grants to nonprofit organizations to accelerate to a world where people and nature thrive together. It supports early movers, innovative ideas, and bold leaders and organizations, adapting based on what it learns. 

SMCOE Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative – Explore Andra’s site for the San Mateo County Office of Education. You’ll find a seemingly endless amount of useful resources and information on the work SMCOE is doing. These paid fellowships build teacher and administrative capacity for driving sustainable and climate-resilient transformative change in their classroom and school communities.

Ten Strands – Ten Strands is the leading field catalyst and “backbone organization” in the state of California and the founder of CAELI. It partners with the state government, local education agencies, providers of environmental education, community members, and funders to make environmental literacy a reality for all California’s K–12 students.

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