Research shows that the best way to make adults aware of the importance of helping our environment is to educate children. Youngsters have an uncanny ability to grasp the existing need to take care of our earth, and they bring enthusiasm and energetic tenacity to the challenges they are exposed to.
Explain to children how plastic bags harm our environment, and they immediately find all kinds of alternatives to taking a new bag each time we shop. Then they take this concern home and share it with their parents (sometimes unremittingly!), and soon the whole community reaps the benefits. A number of environmental education activities are unfolding in two of our local elementary schools.
At the Ohrenberger K–8 schools in West Roxbury, Jaimy George — a teacher naturalist from Mass Audubon Boston Nature Center — reports that she is working with the fourth graders there to extend what they learn in science class and apply it to real life.
George says that with the Ohrenberger fourth grade teachers she co-teaches classes about energy and conservation that "challenge students to think about how they use energy every day, and how simple actions like changing a light bulb can help conserve energy and money." Perhaps the best part is that the students take their learning home by keeping track of their home energy usage in journals and then assessing their home energy consumption.
In upcoming weeks, the students will also be evaluating the energy efficiency of their school building. The simple act of teaching children to look around and notice how we use energy (and how much energy we use) can inspire attitudes and create habits that will last a lifetime.
In another green program, established at the Patrick Lyndon School in West Roxbury in 2009, activities to promote learning about the environment and the natural sciences take place in the school's Outdoor Classroom. Built through a grant from the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, the Outdoor Classroom provides students from all grades a chance to participate in a myriad of planting, weather, and climate pursuits.
Lyndon's Science Specialist Judy McClure shares that the children have undertaken such challenges as recording temperature, wind direction, and rainfall data in order to better understand worldwide weather patterns and investigate climate change (sixth grade); using the stream table to observe models of water moving over landscapes so as to predict erosion and deposition effects, as well as designing various landscapes in order to note the effects on these landscapes as water moved over them (fourth and fifth grades); and for the younger grades, planting projects that included radish and lettuce seeds (kindergarten) and daffodils (first grade). The Outdoor Classroom provides hands-on nature experiences that bring the children closer to their environment.
In the meantime, the Boston Public Schools is one of only two school districts nationwide to be awarded a fellowship by the U.S. Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools. Boston resident Phoebe Beierle is the BPS Green Schools Fellow charged with bringing together all the various constituencies within the BPS to promote and advance sustainability initiatives throughout the system.
Beierle tells WRSE that her current pursuits include improving recycling in the schools, bringing clean energy workforce development opportunities to high school students, and enhancing BPS green cleaning and green purchasing guidelines.
All of these school programs bring promise that our children will be able to grow up in a world where we are conscious of the environment and its needs, considering that our everyday actions truly affect the natural world. West Roxbury will benefit from these green initiatives in our schools. As Beierle puts it: "Schools are the center of our community, and by greening our schools, you green the community."