Environmental education is a critical component of preparing students for the unique challenges of the 21st century. Here, we explore a student’s perspective on environmental literacy, and examine how one school used Atlas to support their environmental literacy program. Interested in more? Check out part one of our two part environmental literacy series HERE!

Lessons from Mt. Misery

The school district where I attended K-12 was ahead of its time. The Cherry Hill Public School District, located in Southern New Jersey, has offered a unique “Environmental Education Resident Program” since the 60’s. This program gives all sixth grade students the opportunity to participate in an immersive, transformative environmental literacy program over the course of four days and four nights. The lessons that take place during the program focus on cooperation, communication, and collaboration among students, while also building math and language skills through environmental education.

I still remember my time at “Mt. Misery” (the program takes place at the Pinelands Center at Mt. Misery) as one of my fondest educational experiences. My classmates and I caught frogs and searched high and low for pitcher plants in order to learn about New Jersey’s unique ecosystem, the Pine Barrens. I tested my orienteering skills while learning to identify different ecosystems, and was able to monitor the area’s watershed by measuring pH, phosphates, and dissolved oxygen content. Through fun and interactive food web games I also discovered how interconnected the ecological community is, and a “low ropes” obstacle course taught me about math, problem solving, and team work. These experiences would eventually shape my career and higher education path, giving me the skills to succeed both inside and outside the classroom.

Curriculum Connections

As a sixth-grader, I was blissfully unaware of the countless hours of planning my teachers had poured into the science curriculum. As I review their curriculum maps, I recognize the essential questions that I was eventually asked to wrestle with at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate level, as well. For example:

  • How do species interact and adapt to their environment?
  • How does energy move through an ecosystem?
  • What impact does human activity have on the environment?
  • How does the water cycle influence weather and climate?

[Click here to download the full environmental unit]

To explore more of Cherry Hill’s curriculum maps, please visit https://cherryhill-public.rubiconatlas.org.

Life-Long Learning and Environmental Education

I have carried the skills I learned at Mt. Misery with me into adulthood, and my experience at Mt. Misery shaped my desire to study environmental issues in college and graduate school. My time at the Pinelands Center instilled in me a lasting fascination with the natural world, and I have used the skills I acquired during the program during biological fieldwork jobs, National Science Foundation fellowships, as a Park Ranger, and as Master’s student in geography. I can safely say I would not be the person I am today without my public school district’s focus on environmental education and environmental literacy.

Even without the tools and funding to support an overnight program, I urge educators to consider the myriad ways in which incorporating environmental education into the classroom can support diverse learners, and give students the skills needed to achieve their dreams.

Do you have a unique program (environmental or otherwise)  at your school? Shoot us an email at [email protected] and share your story!

This is part two in a two part series on environmental education. Interested in learning more about the environmental education trend, and exploring some resources for incorporating environmental education into your classroom? Click HERE!

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