Beginning this spring, schoolchildren in California will be learning more about the environment than ever before, thanks to a new state-approved environmental curriculum for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The state Board of Education signed off on 76 sections of a proposed 85-part curriculum that integrates environmental education into science, history and social science classes and is designed to meet and fulfill state academic standards, according to a report on Mercury News.com. The board is expected to review the other nine sections later this year. Teachers should be able to access the curriculum online this spring at no charge. Meanwhile, state officials are trying to find money for printing costs and teacher training.
The new K-12 environmental curriculum includes lessons on food chains and ecosystems for younger students to the relationship between government, economics and the environment for high school seniors. Other lessons focus on a wide range of environmental issues such as food production, watersheds and how water gets to farms, storm drains and water treatment, and the role of California ports in food distribution.
The K-12 environmental curriculum for public schools was authorized by legislation that was signed into law in 2003, but developing the curriculum took several years and the work of multiple state agencies. While many schools already have some form of environmental education, it is usually considered supplemental because the lessons are not aligned with state academic standards.
During the past two years, the environmental curriculum was tested in 19 school districts throughout California. Teachers who have used the curriculum are impressed.
Vince Rosato, a fourth-grade teacher who piloted the curriculum in his class two years ago and helped edit some of the lessons, said his students have continued to be more environmentally conscious and feel more connected to the natural world. His students plant gardens, recycle, manage compost piles and worm bins, and recently worked together to raise money for Haiti earthquake victims.
"It helped them understand that what they put in their mouth or what they throw on the ground has an impact on other people," Rosato told a reporter for the Ventura County Star. "They learned that by ourselves, we can do a little. But, as a group, in small ways, they can help the world."
Surveys that measure "environmental literacy" among K-12 students often reveal a lack of basic knowledge about the natural environment. Despite the National Environmental Education Act passed by Congress in 1990, which required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen and expand environmental education nationwide, there has rarely been sufficient funding for more than a patchwork effort, so the states have started developing their own solutions. The new California curriculum is one that is attracting a lot of attention from other states.
California has earned a reputation for leadership on critical environmental issues. By making the environment a key part of public school education, the state is helping to ensure that the next generation will be even better equipped to carry on that tradition.
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