Environmental Youth Education

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             Environmental educators in Lansing try to ensure that the youth of the community are prepared for their future. Students are taught about reducing, reusing, and recycling as early as kindergarten.

“It’s part of our mission to teach the values of recycling so that our youth can be taught environmentally responsible habits and grow into adults who are good stewards of the Earth,” said Lori Miller, Recycling Coordinator for the City of Lansing.

“We also believe that students who learn to recycle at school are more likely to recycle at home and to encourage their parents and family members to recycle more too.’

Miller has worked for the City of Lansing for nearly 15 years, she said. Prior to Lansing’s Waste Reduction Services (WRS), she was a Naturalist and recycling educator at Woldumar Nature Center.

“Part of my job has always been to reach out into the Lansing schools to teach the values of recycling, composting and waste reduction,” said Miller.  “I’ve done that through a variety of interactive presentations and activities.”

The City of Lansing offers a free weekly curbside recycling collection to schools in the Lansing area, said Miller.

There are other organizations in the community that provide the youth with environmental education.

“We want kids to stop and think when they’re throwing something away, there really is no ‘away’,” said Nancy Aitcheson, Communication and Education coordinator for the Michigan State University’s Surplus and Recycling Center. “It goes somewhere.”

MSU’s Surplus and Recycling Center worked with a consultant, Susan Santone for Creative Change, to develop a lifecycle program that addressed the state’s standards, said Aitcheson. The program is for grades kindergarten through sixth and educates youth about recycling and lifecycles in the Lansing area, she said.

“What we’re trying to do is to provide a foundation and a mindset of culture change for the next generation so that they can grow up in a world where they can conserve resources,” said Aitcheson.

An organization called Earth Force engages young people as active citizens who improve the environment and their communities now and in the future.

For more about Earth force, visit http://www.earthforce.org.

“I see the students’ interest and passion for what they are doing and it is very inspiring to see the results of their action projects and the pride they have in their work,” said Ashley Hembolt, program manager at Earth Force in Lansing. “I also work with many teachers at trainings, and they always tell me that the students’ passion for change is what keeps their energy up for this work.”

The City of Lansing offers educational programs for elementary children, targeted towards second to fifth grade students, said Miller.

“We encourage schools to engage their students and have them be responsible for the gathering of materials, education within the school and setting out the bins each week, said Miller. “We also offer educational programs.”

“We used to do smaller classroom programs, but now are focused on larger assemblies, said Miller. “That way we can expose more students to our message with less time and resources invested.”

WRS has a new program this year called Recycling Saves Energy which is a partnership with the Lansing Board of Water and Light, said Miller. The program is half focused on recycling (what can be recycled, how it works, where the materials go, environmental benefits) and half focused on energy (what is energy, how is it produced, how can we conserve it), she said.

“I’m encouraged by the students I talk to who have been educated about these issues from a very young age,” said Miller. “They are growing up with these values and habits are being formed so it’s more likely that they will participate in recycling programs throughout their lives and hopefully that will extend into other environmentally responsible behavior.”

“Kids are like sponges and they ask amazing questions, said Miller. “They help you be a better teacher by helping you understand what and how they need to be taught,” said Miller.

The Earth Force Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN) program trains teachers and partners in a similar six-step process, starting with an environmental inventory and ending with an action project, said Hemholdt. With problem identification, policy and practice research, and solution selection and implementation the being other important steps.

“The Earth Force Global Rivers Environmental Education Network is a program with a 23 year history that centers on a water quality monitoring experience, followed by watershed based action projects that stem from issues found during water monitoring,” said Hemholdt. “The program began at University of Michigan with Dr. Bill Stapp when students found windsurfing students in the Huron River were contracting hepatitis.”

Students took action by advocating for policies around cleaning up the river and the GREEN program was born, said Hemholdt. The program grew and was adopted and funded by General Motors, followed by Earth Force in 1990.

“The program typically focuses on middle and high school students, since it fits in with higher level chemistry and earth science curriculum,” said Hembolt. “With 99 schools currently involved in the program, we rely on partner watershed organizations to carry out the program on the ground, and Earth Force provides training, funding and partnership support to make sure this happens.”

“It is essential not only that we educate students about the environment, but empower them to understand how they can take action both individually and collectively.”

Now the program supports 9,300 students across over 30 communities, many of which are in Michigan watersheds, said Hemholdt. General Motors environmental engineers typically mentor students in their water monitoring and action projects, and watershed organizations help to support the classroom education piece of the program.

“I think that every generation has a responsibility towards those that come after it,” said Hembolt.  “The current generation will face environmental challenges that those before it have not encountered, and they will need the problem solving and social capitol skills to organize and understand those problems in a holistic way.”