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It has been 48 years since the first Earth Day, often recognized as the beginning of the modern environmental education movement. But why, after 48 years, hasn’t the field of environmental education achieved its vision? I believe part of it lies in what I refer to as the need to reach “the 85%.”
Many environmental education models achieve success for some teachers and their students. Based on my experience, I estimate about 15%. That is, through the typical “one-and-done” workshop model, about 15% of the teachers take what they learn and run with it. Similarly, community-based programs offered by nonformal educators—as great as they are—simply can’t reach all students. In this model, it’s usually the teachers most passionate about science education who sign up—about 15%. But what about the students who don’t have teachers looking for these opportunities? What about the students whose teachers don’t hit the ground running after a single workshop? Are we surprised when a community needs to make a decision that will affect the salmon in a nearby creek and only 15% go to the voting booth with an understanding of the interplay between our social, economic and ecological systems?
How do we address this inequity in our delivery? To embed a sustainability thread through our K-12 system, ensuring that all students graduate with environmental literacy, all teachers must develop the confidence to deliver integrated, career connected, field-based, locally relevant education. A systems approach for K-12 schools can address questions of programmatic inclusiveness and sustainability of implementation at all levels.
As PEI strives to include the 85%, our work is guided by the question, How do we meet educators, educational leaders, and community members where they are, set reasonable goals and develop support structures that engage the 85%? PEI is addressing this by taking a systemic approach to FieldSTEM delivery. With this work, we aim to help realize the goal that the teach-ins at 2,000 U.S. colleges and universities and nearly 10,000 K-12 schools set on April 22, 1970—to ensure that all students develop the knowledge and skills to be scientifically literate citizens making balanced decisions for sustainable communities. Thank you for all you do to contribute to this work.