As Yampatika’s newly appointed environmental literacy program coordinator, it seems appropriate that my first editorial should cover the growing role of environmental education in our schools. First, I’d like to relate a story: Once upon a time, my sixth-grade teacher wrote a random, 10-digit number on the chalkboard (yes, a chalkboard) at the beginning of the school year. He instructed us to memorize it. The next day he asked how many students could recall the number. Most did. Nine months later, he again inquired how many students could accurately recall that inconsequential number. This time only two hands went up. The experiment seemed to highlight what everyone already knew — that those two students were the “smartest” in the class, and the rest of us were somehow subpar. Many years later, as I view this experience through an educator’s lens, I can see that “the rest of us” weren’t unintelligent underachievers because we couldn’t recall information that had no relevance, context or significance. Rather, we were completely normal.
Individuals are more likely to retain information when it is presented or packaged in a context that is relevant to them. For example, children learn their ABCs to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” not by memorization. And dissecting a sheep’s heart gives students a tangible (if not gory!) experience with which to associate complex anatomical vocabulary. These mnemonic devices are kinesthetic, visual, auditory, surprising, humorous and other methods for creating “relatable memories.”
Yampatika’s environmental literacy program uses the environment as a teaching context, creating memorable and lasting experiences through which students learn academic constructs. It has been proven that environmental and place-based education improves students’ skills in literacy and math. And these teaching tools improve interpersonal skills, social responsibility, sense of interconnectedness and physical well-being. For these reasons, Yampatika has been partnering with local schools to incorporate environmental education into their curriculum for the past 20 years. This type of integrated approach may become mandatory when the Colorado Environmental Education Plan, now in draft form, is adopted by the Colorado Department of Education.
For the past three years, Yampatika has partnered with area school districts to offer a model environmental education program at the K-5 level.
Program evaluations indicate that it has been effective in advancing academic achievement with students at all levels and supporting teachers with creative tools for “teaching to the test.” Constructive feedback from teachers indicates that we must find more meaningful service-learning opportunities for students of all ages as these are the types of experiences that drive the classroom and field concepts home.
Yampatika’s environmental literacy program is creating memories with academic impact, and I am proud to be a part of that.
Genah M. Burditt, environmental literacy program coordinator for Yampatika. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-871-9151.