By Erin Sandlin, Policy Intern
Nothing makes teachers feel better than when their students apply what they’ve learned in class to their lives outside of it.
I experienced this during my time helping a teacher develop an environmentally focused curriculum. We were able to use our own backyard to show the complex environmental relationships that surrounded us, and to see how we were connected to the ecosystem as well. I read journal entries about students noticing the clouds changing during a summer storm or pleasant encounters with buzzing bees during a walk to school. The students were fully engaged — on Friday afternoons I might add!
Studies have shown that integrating environmental education into school curriculums improves students’ academic performance and their propensity for environmental stewardship. Exposing youth to the wonders of nature through hands-on experiences has advantages in the academic world, but it is important to recognize the priceless benefits of showing students their connection to the natural world around them.
The benefits of environmental education are now receiving recognition in Congress. The No Child Left Inside Act was recently introduced and pushes for support of environmental education in the country’s public schools.
Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Congressmen John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) showed their commitment to environmental education by introducing the act, which would provide grants to school districts to enhance opportunities for students to learn about, and in, the great outdoors.
At American Forests, we recognize the importance of providing young people with access to and education about our forests. Our Community ReLeaf projects have engaged schools and youth across the nation. These programs, in cities such as Atlanta, have given educational opportunities to students about the importance of trees. With our help, schools are involved in beneficial tree-planting programs.
American Forests is also a member of the Outdoor Alliance for Kids (OAK), which brings together more than seventy businesses and organizations with the common interest of connecting children, youth and families with the outdoors. OAK fully supports the No Child Left Inside Act and continues to advocate for outdoor learning opportunities. Their efforts have had a positive impact on student achievement and have stimulated students’ curiosity about the world around them.
American Forests is well aware of the beauty of our forests, and we are hopeful that the No Child Left Inside Act will give kids an opportunity to establish a healthy relationship with the environment. Rachel Carson recognized this when she wrote, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”