Building Capacity for Environmental Literacy

Educators and teachers have a wide range of responsibilities when it comes to implementing a classroom curriculum that meets both the needs of students and the school board. From creating engaging lessons to providing resources for new programs and initiatives, educators and teachers are doing a lot of extra work behind the scenes to make sure our students have the best education possible.  

When introducing environmental education and literacy into the school curriculum, one of the main challenges teachers and educators face is making sure there is equitable access for all students to learn in the natural environment. We had the opportunity to speak with Amity Sandage, the Environmental Literacy Coordinator for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education (Santa Cruz COE), where she leads a countywide effort to promote environmental literacy for K–12 students. Amity has provided invaluable insight on making sure there is equitable access to natural spaces for all students while also helping to increase the capacity for teachers and educators in this space.  

“If we can build these experiences into the campus of the public schools so that every school has a green space, it would provide tremendous benefits and help advance environmental literacy.” 

Amity Sandage

Advancing environmental literacy has been at the core of Amity’s work with the Santa Cruz COE, and she has a unique understanding of the challenges for incorporating it into the school curriculum with experience in both the formal and non-formal sectors of education. She recognizes that equitable access for students is one of the first factors we must acknowledge to make systemic change, but she also notes that creating capacity-building tools for teachers is essential for success. 

Teachers face an enormous amount of pressure to make sure their instruction conforms to school curriculum and standards, all while maintaining high scores for performance records. This demanding environment forces many teachers to prioritize Math and English Language Arts over environmental education. Amity provides insight to teachers on how they can incorporate environmental literacy into their curriculum in a way that meets the needs of the teachers, the students, and the curriculum, and that is through an interdisciplinary approach. 

Introducing environmental literacy through an interdisciplinary approach addresses the issue of time since teachers are confronted with the reality that there is not enough instructional time in a day to introduce a new learning subject into their classroom. Environmental literacy programs can be a great tool in bringing together different subject areas in a way that connects to the world of the students. As Amity mentioned, there is an opportunity for students to apply their learning from environmental literacy to a multitude of subjects. She brought up the example of studying pesticides: If a student is studying an issue with pesticides, they can take that problem, research the history and its current impact, and understand the policies and governing body behind the decisions about it. From there, they can look at the data, the impact on the communities and ecosystems, and create an argument based on their findings. All of these actions connect to English Language Arts, Math, History, and Science in a way that is all-encompassing and advances environmental literacy. 

Although the interdisciplinary approach seems like an easy addition to the classroom curriculum, many teachers lack the resources and training opportunities to help them effectively integrate core subject areas with environmental literacy. Most teachers did not experience this type of integrated instructions themselves as students. Professional learning opportunities can provide teachers the opportunity to experience integrated learning through a student lens while building their own environmental literacy, which is what Amity and the Santa Cruz COE implement in their Teacher Leadership Institute (TLI).  

“It starts with a common understanding of what environmental literacy means among the group that is working towards it.” 

Another aspect that prevents teachers from incorporating environmental literacy is access to local resources. Many teachers lack the time to research resources, find programs to use with students, and identify phenomena in the local area that they can use within their learning. They need more outside support, which can come from the non-formal education sector in the local community. 

When community-based educators and classroom teachers collaborate, they can complement one another; both provide expertise and resources that the other needs. Working symbiotically on creating learning experiences for students that connect the classroom to field-based programs, they can effectively take advantage of each other’s resources. For example, classroom teachers can support non-formal educators in adapting lessons for multilingual students and can use assessments back in the classroom to make sure students are progressing in their learning. For teachers, one of the benefits of working with a community-based partner is the support they can provide for teachers to transition the classroom to an outdoor setting. The non-formal sector is bringing their knowledge of local phenomena that teachers may not know about, as well as access to real scientists and projects where students can engage and work with community-based partners.  

This collaboration allows teachers to feel more confident in introducing environmental literacy into their instruction and bringing their students outdoors for an engaging learning setting. Because of the firm structure of school systems, it is beneficial to have collaboration with environmental education partners who are more flexible in order to, “be drivers for innovation and pilot new programs that can lead to improvements in the school,” as Amity stated. When looking towards the ideal cooperation between the formal and non-formal sectors, it’s important to remember that what’s lacking for a lot of environmental education organizations is an insider’s understanding of the needs of the schools so that when they create programs, they are relevant and helpful to the school. A strong partnership can change that. 

“Part of the vision of ideal cooperation would be for the public school system to recognize the non-formal education system as an incredible resource for them and to really embed them into their visions and plans.” 

Amity Sandage

A great example of this cooperation at work is the success of a school-wide “Outdoor Education Week” that took place just this past year. Amity received a request from a principal who had an idea to host a week-long environmental education week for their entire school while their teachers had planning time for the shift to hybrid instruction. The principal wondered if the network of environmental education partners could create a program that could engage all K-8 students even in a 100% distance learning format. Amity reached out to environmental education partners who are at the core of the Teacher Leadership Institute (TLI) to collaborate on this project. The Santa Cruz COE collaborated with six of the organizations: Coastal Watershed Council, Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Bird School Project, Santa Cruz Climate Speakers, and Santa Cruz County Outdoor Science School. Together, the partners and educators built on distance learning lesson sequences that they had developed in the TLI; their goal was to make the lessons more interdisciplinary, integrate social-emotional learning, and include multiple real-world outdoor experiences for the students. Amity expressed that during distance learning, students can still “get off the computer and connect with the outdoors.” Since the non-formal and formal educators had a good partnership before the conception of the “Outdoor Education Week” and a common vision of environmental education integrated with core subjects, the execution of the event happened quickly and efficiently. 

When COVID-19 started to impact our school systems, the partners within the TLI got to work adapting all the K-12 draft lessons they had previously created and transformed them into distance learning sequences that the partners could then prepare for teachers to utilize. The lesson sequences have now been released on the TLI website for use by all interested K-12 teachers, and as teachers pilot them with students, Santa Cruz COE is collecting feedback to evaluate how well they connect to the school standards, as well as gathering data on the number and demographics of students served. 

The collaboration of formal and non-formal educators is the foundation for the success of programs such as the Santa Cruz County “Outdoor Education Week” because of the wide breadth of resources from all participants. Without the resources provided by both sectors, teachers would not have the capacity to create these engaging and innovative programs for their students. Environmental literacy is made easier for teachers to implement when there is a collaborative environment where partners and educators can work together to meet the standards and individual needs of each classroom. 

To learn more about Santa Cruz COE and the Teacher Learning Institute, visit: https://sites.google.com/santacruzcoe.org/santa-cruz-county-teacher-lead/home 

Relevant Links 

Coastal Watershed Council 

The Coastal Watershed Council is a dynamic and growing non-profit based in Santa Cruz, CA, working to transform the lower San Lorenzo River into a community destination by inspiring people to explore, enhance and protect this critical natural resource. 

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary 

Designated in 1992, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) is a federally protected marine area offshore of California’s central coast. Stretching from Marin to Cambria, the sanctuary encompasses a shoreline length of 276 miles and 6,094 square statute miles (4,601 nmi2) of the ocean, extending an average distance of 30 miles from shore. The sanctuary contains extensive kelp forests and one of North America’s largest underwater canyons and closest-to-shore deep ocean environments. 

Santa Cruz Climate Action Network 

Santa Cruz Climate Action Network (SCCAN) seeks to address the current Climate Change Emergency, recognizing that failure to act quickly will have devastating effects on future generations of humans and other life forms. SCCAN’s Santa Cruz Climate Speakers specialize in Climate Change education curriculum tailored to fit the needs of a specific class, with the goal to provide information, inspire dialogue, and motivate solutions. Their aim is to have all local students graduate with literacy in Climate Change.  

Santa Cruz County Outdoor Science School 

At the Santa Cruz County Outdoor Science School, fifth and sixth-grade students experience a four- or five-day residential, hands-on science program. Students focus on investigating the rich coastal redwood forest ecosystem. Residential Outdoor Science School promotes care for self, others, and the natural world upon which our survival depends. We are committed to a safe and stimulating educational environment that nurtures an inquisitive mind. 

Santa Cruz County Teacher Leadership Institute 

The Teacher Leadership Institute for Science and Environmental Literacy is an innovative year-long program designed to support emerging teacher leaders by deepening knowledge, increasing confidence, and enhancing abilities to support the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards using the environment as a source of phenomena and connecting to the California Environmental Principles and Concepts. 

Santa Cruz COE TLI K-12 Lesson Sequences 

In 2020-21, Santa Cruz COE TLI launched the Relevant Environmental Action & Learning (REAL) Science Institute: Phase 2 of the Teacher Leadership Institute for Science and Environmental Literacy. They focused on reviewing and strengthening the lessons for teachers and students across 10 counties. 

Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History 

The Museum features educational, hands-on exhibits for children, families, and adults who are curious about the world they live in and the natural history of one of the most scenic locations on the California coast. Many locals know the Museum by the life-size gray whale statue, created in 1982, that rests near its entrance, between Tyrrell Park and Seabright State Beach. 

The Bird School Project 

The Bird School Project uses outdoor experiential learning to inspire and equip students and teachers to love, study, and steward their local environment. Limited school resources, transportation constraints, and a lack of time and support often prevent students from connecting directly with the environment. Bird School works to meet the need of utilizing outdoor locations such as schoolyards and backyards for learning and exploration opportunities. 

Tierra Pacifica Charter School 

Tierra Pacifica Charter School, formed in 1998, is a collaborative effort among parents, teachers, and community members committed to the development of the whole child. Through the establishment of a charter school, we believe we can work within the school system to create an innovative alternative model to traditional public elementary schools. Tierra Pacifica educates children from Kindergarten through 8th grade. The school is designed for families who want to take an active role in the education of their children, both in and out of the classroom. 

Dean Reese on Delivering Environmental Literacy through Rain, Sleet, Snow, or… Pandemic

This week we spoke with Dean Reese, the Science Coordinator of Outdoor Education and Environmental Literacy for the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

In this position, he leads environmental literacy efforts working towards expanding environmental literacy throughout San Joaquin County and the greater region.  He is the Project Director for the Region 6 California Environmental Literacy Project and enjoys supporting teachers in their efforts to connect students with the natural world to move towards a more sustainable future. Dean has helped to establish and sustain environmental literacy networks for youth, teachers, and community-based partners. He is involved with statewide environmental literacy efforts as a member of CAELI’s Leadership Council.

Over the past year, Dean has been working tirelessly to ensure that teachers in San Joaquin County and beyond have the resources and capacity to continue delivering lessons despite the challenges COVID-19 and distance learning have presented.

Watch the interview with Dean below and learn more here:

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Environmental Literacy in 2020-21

Over the past year, educators have been forced to discover new ways of connecting with their students. For environmental literacy educators, this has been particularly difficult as most lesson plans were intended for in-person learning.

“It’s about being innovative and creative, and figuring out how can we still engage students even though we can’t be face to face.” 

Dean Reese

Over the past year, educators have been forced to discover new ways of connecting with their students. For environmental literacy educators, this has been particularly difficult as most lesson plans were intended for in-person learning.

This week we spoke with Dean Reese, the Science Coordinator of Outdoor Education and Environmental Literacy for San Joaquin County Office of Education. Dean has been working tirelessly to ensure that teachers in San Joaquin County and beyond have the resources and capacity to continue delivering high-quality instruction and learning experiences in environmental literacy despite the challenges COVID-19 and distance learning have presented.

In our interview, Dean talks about the resources he’s employed as well as how he’s built and managed support networks for teachers, students, and community-based partners.

Learn more here:

Relevant Links 

SJCOE STEM Programs 

The SJCOE STEM Program Mission is to provide innovative programs that empower students, educators, and regional communities to engage in learning experiences integrating science, technology, engineering, and math. 

SJCOE Environmental Literacy Networks 

The environmental literacy team is building networks to connect and support environmental education between community-based partners, educators, students, and school districts and sites. We will meet throughout the year to address challenges, support each other’s work, build capacity, foster collaboration, and further integrate our districts and schools into the real work to address local and global environmental challenges. 

SJCOE Outdoor Education | Science Camp, Jones Gulch 

San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE), Science Camp, Jones Gulch, informally known as “Science Camp”, is a week-long residential outdoor education program reaching approximately 4500 fifth and sixth graders and 600 high school cabin leaders each year since 1957. On the California coast, students spend five days and four nights exploring the natural world and learning about the spectacular redwood forest and coastal ecosystems. 

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. 

Jamboard 

Google’s interactive whiteboard system offers a collaborative experience for teams and classrooms. 

Flipgrid 

Flipgrid is a free and accessible video discussion experience for PreK to Ph.D. educators, learners, and families. 

HyperDoc 

HyperDocs.co is an online teacher academy and a resource-sharing hub. HyperDocs are digital lesson plans that are designed by teachers and given to students. They provide access for students to all the content and learning in one organized digital space. 

Google Classroom 

Classroom is a free service for schools, non-profits, and anyone with a personal Google account. Classroom makes it easy for learners and instructors to connect—inside and outside of schools. Classroom saves time and paper and makes it easy to create classes, distribute assignments, communicate, and stay organized. 

Current News and Events

Climate Action Academy: Scholarship Opportunity for Educators
Mar. 15, 2021 2811
The Climate Action Academy (CAA) is a virtual training program on climate change, action-oriented learning, and green solutions for K-12 and informal educators.

Teaching to Outcomes
Mar. 16, 2021 Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education
Maintain the wonder for students while articulating your teaching goals. Creating outcome-based lessons is a key to success as an EE practitioner and leader. Through discussion and activities, explore ways to increase your effectiveness, student engagement, and reach your goals.

Green Schools Conference (GSC)
Jun. 28-29, 2021 Center for Green Schools
This year the Green Schools Conference will convene virtually over two half-days of programming, featuring inspiring keynotes, interactive education sessions, and engaging peer group networking opportunities.

Brazil Has Weakened Dozens of Environmental Laws During the Pandemic
Feb. 24, 2021 E360
Since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, Brazil has approved 57 pieces of legislation that weaken environmental laws…

The origins of environmental justice—and why it’s finally getting the attention it deserves
Feb. 25, 2021 National Geographic
Decades of research show that Black and brown communities are on the front lines of environmental harm. Can those longstanding injustices be remedied?

Climate change is the top concern for UK students, outranking inequality, healthcare and the economy
Feb. 26, 2021 inews
Global poll finds climate change outranks housing, healthcare, and the economy as the biggest issue for UK undergraduates.

Existing emissions pledges barely scratch climate targets, U.N. tally finds
Feb. 26, 2021 Reuters
Pledges made so far under the 2015 Paris accord would deliver less than a 1% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 — a fraction of the 45% cut needed to avert catastrophic climate change…

On World Wildlife Day, a host of conservation success stories
Mar. 03, 2021 World Economic Forum
Amongst all the dire and depressing news surrounding climate change and biodiversity loss, here are some success stories that could point the way to further positive outcomes in the future.

A newly released report by UNDP confirms that education is key to addressing climate change
Mar. 05, 2021 Mirage
The largest-ever opinion survey on climate change was carried out by UN CC: Learn partner UNDP in 2020 and showed that 64% of 1.2 million respondents think that climate change is a global emergency…

How ‘Cutting Green Tape’ can make California more resilient
Mar. 08, 2021 CalMatters
Streamlined regulatory processes for ecosystem restoration in California will be critical to growing green jobs and meeting environmental goals.

Environmental Literacy and Distance Learning

For most teachers, integrating environmental literacy into instruction typically involves taking students outside, on a field trip, into schoolyards, or attending a residential science camp. Unfortunately, a lot of those opportunities are closed off due to COVID-19 as students and teachers have been forced into a distance learning setting for health and safety concerns, and educators have had to rethink how they approach environmental literacy. Along with the inability for teachers to meet with students in person, there has been a general loss of instructional time for students in the field of science. During this unprecedented time, subjects such as English Language Arts and Math are being prioritized, which leaves science instruction and environmental literacy to fall behind. One of the reasons for the prioritization of other subjects outside of science is due to teachers being unable to use and shift the same lessons they have spent time developing for in-person instruction to a distance learning setting. 

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Dean Reese, the Coordinator of Outdoor Education and Environmental Literacy for the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE). Dean is the project director for the Region 6 California Environmental Literacy Project and supports teachers in their efforts to connect students to the outdoors with environmental literacy throughout San Joaquin County and beyond. Over the past year, Dean has been providing incomparable guidance to teachers on how to transition their environmental literacy programs to fit the needs of an unprecedented learning setting – whether that be distance learning or a hybrid classroom model.  

When transitioning to distance learning, many educators have had to think outside the box and create new lesson plans that integrate their normal approach with the use of technology. Tools such as HyperDocs and Google Classroom allow teachers to have students participate in an interactive digital document where they can do synchronous or asynchronous learning. This is especially helpful when finding a solution that meets the learning needs of all students.  

“It’s about being innovative and creative, and figuring out how can we still engage students even though we can’t be face to face.” 

Dean Reese

An effective way to approach environmental literacy in this setting is to utilize digital tools such as breakout rooms in video conferencing software and interactive whiteboards such as Jamboard. Jamboard allows students to talk amongst themselves and write out questions; similar to what you can do in an in-person classroom setting.  

As Dean mentioned in our interview, it’s important to understand that students are just as zoom-fatigued as adults, so we must find ways to meet their emotional and social needs in addition to their academic needs. It’s hard for students to stay engaged in a distance learning setting, especially in science, where environmental literacy is most commonly integrated, as it’s often hands-on and interactive. To combat this, we need to utilize the space where our students live such as their local parks and backyards. A lot is going on in the ecosystems all around us and teachers should encourage students to engage with their surroundings.  

“We walk by the nature that is around us all the time without taking the time to stop and look, so there is an opportunity to understand nature right where we live.” 

Nature journaling is a great approach to incorporate environmental literacy into a distance learning curriculum – drawing, asking questions, interacting with phenomena in front of them – it is an opportunity for students to slow down, observe, and discuss the exciting things they see outside with their peers. It creates a sense of community in a time where many are removed from their usual interactions with friends and educators. 

At the SJCOE, County Superintendent of Schools, James Mousalimas, has prioritized science and environmental literacy. It is through this focus that the SJCOE has made significant progress with its environmental literacy efforts. Dean has been able to take part in several initiatives to provide professional development for teachers looking to integrate environmental literacy in a distance learning setting. The SJCOE has established and sustained environmental literacy networks that bring students, teachers, and community-based partners together to simultaneously learn in this new way. They have also partnered with the CA Department of Education where they are holding workshops to raise awareness of programs that look at the sustainability of a school, the health and wellness of students and staff, and to identify the types of environmental education tools and programs they have available.  

As a backbone of networks for advancing environmental literacy, the SJCOE has created 3 distinct groups to engage differing demographics with environmental literacy: CPEL (Community Partners for Environmental Literacy), TEL (Teachers for Environmental Literacy), and YEL (Youth for Environmental Literacy). As Dean enthusiastically proclaimed,  

“We’re gonna TEL it, we’re gonna CPEL it, and we’re gonna YEL it!”  

Dean Reese

The CPEL network provides the opportunity to identify which community partners are active in San Joaquin County and in the greater region, as well as who is providing environmental education services for our schools in an equitable way. The TEL network is a great platform for both students with YEL, and community-based partners with CPEL, to interact with teachers and make sure their environmental literacy programs and teachings are relevant to students. YEL, an engaging network for students, keeps them informed, inspires them, and provides a pathway for green careers after high school. It has also been a platform where students can talk to adults and teachers to try and get the change they are looking for in environmental education to happen within their classrooms. 

Since many organizations are now meeting virtually, it has allowed agencies such as the SJCOE to expand their resources outside their county and to the greater region, allowing students, teachers, and community-based partners to talk to other schools outside of their local community. They can share tools and new tricks to help students and teachers stay engaged and excited about environmental literacy initiatives.  

“There is so much learning done when students talk and share with one another.” 

Dean Reese

One of the things Dean feels is imperative once we transition back to the classroom, is to remember all the great tools we have discovered over the last year with virtual learning. A lot of community-based partners and state parks have created resources for students and teachers, so when there is a transition back into the classroom, educators should not forget all they have utilized during this period, and instead, integrate them into their normal classroom lessons or after school during homework hours. 

We asked Dean about his outlook on the state of environmental literacy, and he acknowledges that we are at the beginning of environmental literacy and there is much to do in terms of engaging stakeholders and allowing environmental literacy programs to prosper. However, Dean is optimistic that we will “continue to see a rise in importance for environmental literacy across counties in California.” With environmental literacy champions like Dean working tirelessly to advance the field, teachers, students, parents, and community-based partners are in good hands. 

Relevant Links 

SJCOE STEM Programs 

The SJCOE STEM Program Mission is to provide innovative programs that empower students, educators, and regional communities to engage in learning experiences integrating science, technology, engineering, and math. 

SJCOE Environmental Literacy Networks 

The environmental literacy team is building networks to connect and support environmental education between community-based partners, educators, students, and school districts and sites. We will meet throughout the year to address challenges, support each other’s work, build capacity, foster collaboration, and further integrate our districts and schools into the real work to address local and global environmental challenges. 

SJCOE Outdoor Education | Science Camp, Jones Gulch 

San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE), Science Camp, Jones Gulch, informally known as “Science Camp”, is a week-long residential outdoor education program reaching approximately 4500 fifth and sixth graders and 600 high school cabin leaders each year since 1957. On the California coast, students spend five days and four nights exploring the natural world and learning about the spectacular redwood forest and coastal ecosystems. 

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. 

Jamboard 

Google’s interactive whiteboard system offers a collaborative experience for teams and classrooms. 

Flipgrid 

Flipgrid is a free and accessible video discussion experience for PreK to Ph.D. educators, learners, and families. 

HyperDoc 

HyperDocs.co is an online teacher academy and a resource-sharing hub. HyperDocs are digital lesson plans that are designed by teachers and given to students. They provide access for students to all the content and learning in one organized digital space. 

Google Classroom 

Classroom is a free service for schools, non-profits, and anyone with a personal Google account. Classroom makes it easy for learners and instructors to connect—inside and outside of schools. Classroom saves time and paper and makes it easy to create classes, distribute assignments, communicate, and stay organized. 

The Environmental Education Funding Landscape

This week we spoke with Jason Morris, the Senior Program Officer for the Environmental Education Program at Pisces Foundation.

“When the U.S. public school system prioritizes environmental education, it can get funded, and all kids benefit.”

Jason Morris

This week we spoke with Jason Morris, the Senior Program Officer for the Environmental Education Program at Pisces Foundation.

We spoke to Jason about the need for schools to prioritize environmental education, as well as the funding needed to make that possible. He has experienced first-hand the systemic challenges facing environmental education programs, including but not limited to, ensuring that there is sufficient funding and that programs are reaching the high needs of students and schools.

In our interview, Jason talks about the six elements needed for a well-developed landscape for environmental education and the different routes that can be taken to acquire funding.

Hear more from Jason here:

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.

Blue Sky Funders Forum – The Blue Sky Funders Forum is a national collaborative that helps members learn, connect, and grow philanthropy that supports the many benefits of environmental literacy and stronger connections to nature. We are a community united in the belief that when people have meaningful experiences outdoors their quality of life, health and social wellbeing improve, and in turn, their communities become stronger and more sustainable. 

ChangeScale – ChangeScale builds cohesiveness, effectiveness, and prominence in the field of environmental education throughout the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Area. It works collaboratively to achieve greater collective impact on environmental education outcomes than any one organization could achieve independently. 

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. 

NatureBridge – NatureBridge’s mission is to connect young people to the wonder and science of the natural world, igniting self-discovery and inspiring stewardship of our planet. Through overnight, hands-on environmental science programs, it takes more than 35,000 children and teens each year into our national parks to explore the outdoors, connect with their peers, discover themselves and develop a lasting relationship with the environment. 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – NOAA’s Environmental Literacy Program provides grants and in-kind support for programs that educate and inspire people to use Earth system science to improve ecosystem stewardship and increase resilience to environmental hazards. 

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. 

Rethink Outside – Coordinated by Blue Sky Funders Forum and informed by the voices of hundreds of stakeholders and allies, the new shared narrative leverages and shares communications research, tools, and strategies to tell a new story and engage new partners to bring the promise of healthy communities to all. Together, we aspire to create a future where everyone has positive experiences outdoors and shares the joy, health, growth, and sense of community that comes with it. 

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. 

News and Events

Teaching Climate Consequences with CLEAN: Motivate and Inspire, Don’t Despair

Mar. 4, 2021 CLEAN

In this webinar, climate communicator Karin Kirk will share strategies for building connections between cause and effect, showcasing solutions, and using local approaches to make science relevant and inspiring.

California Farm to School Virtual Conference

Mar. 10–12, 2021 California Department of Food & Agriculture

This year’s agenda focuses on expanding food access, increasing equity, lifting student voice, and opening school markets for California specialty crop producers, with an emphasis on establishing farm to school programs that connect classrooms, cafeterias and communities.

Building Racial Equity in Environmental and Outdoor Science Organizations

Deadline Mar. 12, 2021 Lawrence Hall of Science and Youth Outside

This 2-year series and associated research study will support environmental and outdoor science organizations to build capacity to foster equitable, inclusive, and culturally relevant work environments and organizations.

How Paving with Plastic Could Make a Dent in the Global Waste Problem

Feb. 11, 2021 E360

Roads in which waste plastic is melted down and mixed with paving materials are becoming more common around the world. Although for now they remain a niche technology, experts say the roads could become one of a diverse array of uses for discarded plastic.

Opinion: It’s Not Only About Paris: Will America Confront All The Environmental Treaties It Put In Limbo?

Feb. 19, 2021 Ensia

Rejoining the Paris Agreement is just the first step toward U.S. green global leadership.

International Mother-Tongue Day in the context of climate change

Feb. 22, 2021 NewsDay Zimbabwe

Yesterday, February 21 2021, was International Mother-Tongue Day and this year’s theme is, “Fostering Multilingualism for Inclusion in Education and Society.”

How Digital Skills Can Promote Cultural Literacy and Create Pathways to Equity

Feb. 24, 2021 EdSurge

As part of their celebration of Black History Month, EdSurge spoke to Victor Hicks about his culturally relevant approach to closing the digital divide.

Environmental Literacy – Building Our Understanding of Interdependence with Karen Cowe

Feb. 24, 2021 180 days

In this podcast, Ten Strands’ CEO Karen Cowe discusses her personal interest in the environment and education, share her stories, and explains Ten Strand’s new partnerships that focus on combining equity and culturally responsive teaching with environmental literacy.

The world’s oldest known wild bird just turned 70—why she’s so special

Feb. 25, 2021 National Geographic

Wisdom the albatross, who has survived tsunamis, outlived most of her mates, and raised over 40 chicks, is pushing the boundaries of what we thought birds could do.

Black Americans have disproportionately suffered from pollution. It’s time for a new policy.

Feb. 26, 2021 Vox

Marrying civil rights and environmental protections could close the gap on health disparities caused by industrial polluters.

A Better Way to Think About Climate Change and the Kids Conundrum

Feb. 26, 2021 GQ

Few people have thought as deeply about climate change as author and activist Naomi Klein. Here she shares her ideas on the big question of whether to have children and how we might begin the monumental work of saving the planet—and maybe even one another.

Funding Environmental Education

This week we spoke with Jason Morris, Senior Program Officer for the Environmental Education Program at Pisces Foundation where he leads the Foundation’s grantmaking in environmental education and implements strategies to shape environmental education initiatives nationally.

Jason believes that the U.S. school system must place a greater value on environmental education if they are to optimize learning outcomes for all students and that the federal government can do more to support schools by elevating environmental education as a critical component to every child’s education. However, without a public and private partnership between philanthropy and the federal and state funding streams, environmental education will struggle to scale.

Watch Jason’s interview below and learn more here:

Prioritizing Environmental Education with Jason Morris

Environmental education not only makes students better stewards of our planet it also makes them happier and more successful. There are ample studies at the local and program level suggesting that environmental education improves the academic performance and socio-emotional health of children. Nonetheless, the U.S. public school system has been reluctant to prioritize it. Legislation has resulted in an increased focus on math and English language arts and left little time for environmental education programs. On top of this, environmental education remains inadequately funded and without a national framework to drive implementation and evaluation in the U.S. public school system.

We spoke with Jason Morris, the Senior Program Officer for the Environmental Education Program at Pisces Foundation. Jason leads the Foundation’s grantmaking in environmental education and implements strategies to shape environmental education initiatives nationally. He believes that the U.S. school system must place a greater value on environmental education if they are to optimize learning outcomes for all students and that the federal government can do more to support schools by elevating environmental education as a critical component to every child’s education. However, without a public and private partnership between philanthropy and the federal and state funding streams, environmental education will struggle to scale.

“When the U.S. public school system prioritizes environmental education, it can get funded, and all kids benefit.”

Jason Morris

Jason is uniquely qualified to evaluate and analyze the environmental education field. In addition to his role at Pisces, he has spent much of his career providing hands-on environmental education programs for children and teens. As executive vice president of NatureBridge, Jason oversaw all aspects of NatureBridge’s residential programs in six national parks across the country. He has experienced first-hand the systemic challenges facing environmental education programs, including but not limited to, ensuring that there is sufficient funding and that programs are reaching the high needs of students and schools.

Despite these challenges, Jason loves what he is seeing at the program and local level in communities across the country. Jason takes what he calls an “abundance mind frame” when thinking about environmental education around the U.S. and believes that “we are doing very well in terms of the presence of environmental education opportunities.” However, he recognizes that this often does not translate into opportunities for all students. Jason believes the U.S. needs to do a better job of shaping those opportunities in terms of equity, cultural relevance, and how this translates into career opportunities.

“Oftentimes [environmental education] is perceived to be for kids and school districts with time and money to engage in multiple learning experiences, and there are kids and schools who simply don’t have that,” Jason states.

He believes the experience students have at school, in non-profit programs and within their community, are the foundation to building a strong environmental education ecosystem. But, he states that currently, this ecosystem lacks the “connective tissue” necessary to hold it all together. Jason feels the field of environmental education still has some evolving to do and points out six elements Pisces is supporting that come from research on the elements most mature and well-developed fields have:

1.     A shared narrative

2.     A knowledge base of credible evidence

3.     Equity and relevance to a broad swath of the population

4.     Advocacy at the state and federal levels

5.     Adequate funding

6.     Standards of practice

At Pisces Foundation, Jason’s work revolves around identifying and assisting “backbone organizations” through funding and network building. “We are trying to create those connections between the key nodes of strategic work because a school partnering with a non-profit, partnering with a community-based partner is stronger than any three of those things by themselves.” Jason and Pisces are actively looking for more backbone organizations that can uplift the field and specifically ones that can be the “connective tissue” between schools, programs, and the community at the state and national level.

If you are an educator, program provider, or community-based partner, please reach out to Green Guardians and let us know what your mission, values, and needs are. As Jason emphasized while discussing the need to increase networking, “we need to aggregate this work so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Learn more about Pisces Foundation and the organizations and networks Jason highlighted in the relevant links below.

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.

Blue Sky Funders Forum – The Blue Sky Funders Forum is a national collaborative that helps members learn, connect, and grow philanthropy that supports the many benefits of environmental literacy and stronger connections to nature. We are a community united in the belief that when people have meaningful experiences outdoors their quality of life, health and social wellbeing improve, and in turn, their communities become stronger and more sustainable.

ChangeScale – ChangeScale builds cohesiveness, effectiveness, and prominence in the field of environmental education throughout the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Area. It works collaboratively to achieve a greater collective impact on environmental education outcomes than any one organization could achieve independently.

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.

NatureBridge – NatureBridge’s mission is to connect young people to the wonder and science of the natural world, igniting self-discovery and inspiring stewardship of our planet. Through overnight, hands-on environmental science programs, it takes more than 35,000 children and teens each year into our national parks to explore the outdoors, connect with their peers, discover themselves, and develop a lasting relationship with the environment.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – NOAA’s Environmental Literacy Program provides grants and in-kind support for programs that educate and inspire people to use Earth system science to improve ecosystem stewardship and increase resilience to environmental hazards.

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.

Rethink Outside – Coordinated by Blue Sky Funders Forum and informed by the voices of hundreds of stakeholders and allies, the new shared narrative leverages and shares communications research, tools, and strategies to tell a new story and engage new partners to bring the promise of healthy communities to all. Together, we aspire to create a future where everyone has positive experiences outdoors and shares the joy, health, growth, and sense of community that comes with it.

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.