In an effort to improve watershed education in schools, Delaware Sea Grant has received funding of about $259,000 over the next three years from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Bay Watershed Education and Training program.
The Appoquinimink School District in New Castle County, the Caesar Rodney School District in Kent County and the Sussex Montessori School, a public charter, will be working with Delaware Sea Grant, the Delaware Association for Environmental Education, the Delaware Department of Education, the Delaware Nature Society, the Stroud Water Research Center and the Delaware Foundation for Science and Mathematics Education.
“We are working with districts to decide what they want to do and what they’re interested in and then providing them professional development activities that they can modify to use in either their district or school curriculum,” said David Christopher, a marine education specialist for Delaware Sea Grant. “So really working with the districts to develop their environmental literacy or verbal education plans and kind of deciding … what is locally relevant to them because local relevancy is a really big deal.”
Mr. Christopher said each district or charter school will serve as a model for others within their county, since there has been interest from several in expanding environmental literacy and education.
To do so, “meaningful watershed education experiences” will be implemented, which center on encounters for students that focus on investigating local environmental issues that can lead to informed action and civic engagement.
Ashley Melvin, chair for the Delaware Association for Environmental Education, said this type of learning typically takes place outside of classrooms, and the grant could make that easier.
“We’re going to create a MWEE facilitators’ guide that is going to help educators,” she said. “Instead of us learning the ins and outs of 20 different schools, we’re just going to bring in that person who is deeply committed to watershed education, arming them with the tools and resources that educators should know, and then, they’re going to go back to their school and into the classroom to train teachers.”
In the first year of the grant, schools and districts will begin to develop environmental literacy plans for year two of the grant. Part of the preparation will include environmental literacy audits, in which grant partners will look to identify gaps in the curriculum and natural connections to develop those plans.
Tonyea Mead, a science education associate at the Delaware Department of Education who is assisting on the project, said that STEM careers are the jobs of the future.
“Any kind of science is really important to start out early in elementary school,” she said. “Get them to ask questions and wonder why things are happening because that’s where the jobs are going to be. And to be science-literate is very important. They are going to be the future, to make sure that our world keeps on going.”
Delaware is a “Next Gen State,” meaning it has adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, K-12 content that includes environmental education.
“Many times, kids learn about ecosystems in a box, and they make models of ecosystems, but they don’t realize that ecosystems can be right on the sidewalk,” Ms. Mead said. “It can be right outside their school, and ... they’re part of an ecosystem.”
She added that everyone has a unique watershed around them, and they need to start thinking and learning about them.
“We’re going to be fighting over water, not oil,” she said. “We’re starting to see this in the Midwest with the water shortages, so we can’t take water for granted, and it’s really important to know about our water and where it runs.”
Ms. Melvin said that, though the project is starting small, it is the nexus of something much larger.
“It has to start somewhere,” she said. “That’s what we’re always mindful of when we’re working with environmental education initiatives, is really showing how it plugs into the school and into the community. (Environmental education) is really starting to pick up a lot of momentum in the region and even in our state.”
In addition, the partners are developing a community of practice programs, which will aim to support environmental education by reaching out to businesses, nonprofits and other providers to see if they want to support the schools in their Earth-friendly curricula.