Environmental action begins with environmental literacy
by Merle O'Neill
Something more than just education is required to produce environmental
action. The WATERSHED Project supplies the missing pieces to our city schools.
magine students throughout San Diego County involved
in restoration and monitoring projects that relate to their science learning.
Imagine projects that contribute to the local environment and students contributing
to the well being of their communities.
Thanks to the WATERSHED Project, you don't have to use
your imagination. Here are a few examples of the results produced by this
Active WATERSHED Project teachers and students are also
at Vallecitos Elementary, Spencer Valley, Escondido High, Oakhill Elementary,
Oakcrest Jr. High, San Dieguito High, Ada Harris Elementary, Earl Warren,
Pacific View Elementary and La Presa, Highlands Elementary.
- Sara Wood and her fifth graders at Bayside Elementary and Ariana Torroll
and Arturo Perez at Mar Vista Middle are studying aquatic ecosystems and
monitoring storm drains. The City of Imperial Beach is using their data
to monitor water quality.
- Don Hohimer and his seventh graders at Cajon Valley Middle School
have planted over 150 oak trees in the past two years to enhance and prevent
erosion on a ravine exposed by road widening.
- Debbie Gardner's second graders and Snookie Marier's fifth graders
planted trees to prevent erosion on the hillside at San Onofre Elementary.
- Steven Hamilton's San Pasqual High classes have been performing monthly
water tests in Escondido and are working with the City of Escondido.
These projects are just part of an effort to introduce
environmental literacy into the curriculum of our schools.
Path to literacy
In the two decades since the first Earth Day, organizations
such as the EPA, Department of Education and the North American Association
for Environmental Education (NAAEE) have endorsed the development of the
well informed and environmentally literate citizen as an answer to our threatened
The term "environmental literacy" (EL) is
used to describe an individual's capacity to perceive and interpret the
relative health of environmental systems and to take appropriate action
to maintain, restore or improve the health of those systems. In 1968, Charles
Roth initiated the work to define and develop a continuum of EL. He asserted
that an individual who is environmentally literate possesses the following
characteristics; 1) environmental knowledge; 2) environmental attitude and
sensitivity; 3) problem solving, planning and collaborative/facilitative
skills, action strategies and 4) the ability to take action to improve the
Many have thought that the path to EL was through environmental
knowledge and awareness-based education. Recent research indicates that
knowledge and awareness is only one part of the equation. Dr. Mathias Finger,
in his study of the Swiss, clearly demonstrated that when environmental
knowledge and awareness was pursued in response to "fears about the
environment," it became a coping mechanism and had little to do with
the development of long term pro-active behavior. However, an ongoing involvement
with nature combined with knowledge was the strongest contributing factor
to the development of EL.
Several recent studies performed as part of the Masters'
program in the School of Education at SDSU have verified these findings.
Each of the studies identified several common conditions that exist among
those considered environmentally literate. They are: frequency of interaction
with nature (outdoors); significant role model, generally and most frequently
an educator and then a parent; knowledge and the practice of community service
on behalf of the environment.
The Daedalus Alliance for Environmental Education, in
its work with SuperSEED (Science Environmental Education Development) Institute
for teachers and the WATERSHED Project, has developed an educational delivery
system that significantly enhances the development of environmental literacy
in teachers and students. Recent work by Daedalus founders O'Neill and Winkelman
has demonstrated that nature immersion training significantly effected the
EL of approximately 50 teacher graduates. The assessments of 2,000 students
trained by the Watershed Project consistently showed that they, 1) understood
their roles in the community, 2) knew that their contributions were important,
and 3) knew about the problems of their communities.
Through the WATERSHED Project, several classrooms in
the San Diego Schools are now engaged in developing their EL using the Watershed
Education Model. The project is a program that begins with "Adopt A
Watershed," a science-based curriculum where the concepts are applied
to a local restoration and/or monitoring project. The learning process is
then communicated through a community education project.
If you would like further information on how you can
get your classroom involved, please contact: Merle O'Neill at (619) 793-0411.
The Daedalus Alliance for Environmental Education is a non-profit
organization whose goals are to improve the science and environmental literacy
of teachers and students and the development of the responsible citizen
on behalf of the environment.