Pennsylvania Green and Healthy Schools

Why is environmental education important? Research points to many reasons, but here are just a few:

  • Environmental education connects knowledge that students gain in the classroom with real word situations, allowing students to make new discoveries and understand their world on a whole new level.
  • Environmental education creates an environmentally literate student population that will be equipped to handle the environmental issues of the present and future.
  • Environmental education has also been shown to facilitate critical thinking skills as well as social and basic life skills.

One of the ways National Wildlife Federation (NWF) advances environmental education is through our Eco-Schools USA program, a student-driven, comprehensive framework that provides resources and curriculum to support ten Pathways to Sustainability. This program currently reaches 4,725 schools 2.7 million students, and 130,000 educators in the United States.

Over the past year, NWF has been working closely with the Pennsylvania Green and Healthy Schools Partnership (PAGHSP) to advance the Eco-Schools USA program in Pennsylvania and strengthen partnerships between Eco-Schools USA, assistance providers, state agencies, local education agencies, teachers, facilities manager, and other sustainable schools stakeholders in Pennsylvania. With the implementation of this program made possible with the support of Katherine J. Bishop, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, we hope to increase the number of Eco-Schools in Pennsylvania by more than 30%. To register your school for free or for more information on the program, visit Eco-Schools USA.

As part of this effort, NWF and PAGHSP contracted with the Center for Schools and Communities (CSC) and Boyer Sudduth Environmental Consultants (BSEC) to convene two in-person stakeholder forums and two online webinars. The events engaged a total of 162 participants from 112 different organizations across the Commonwealth in discussions about sustainable schools best practices, resources, and certification programs.

First PAGHSP Forum. Harrisburg, February 2017. Photo Credit: Holly Shields, NWF

The first full-day forum, held in Harrisburg, PA in February, brought together experts, practitioners and resource providers to explore the “how,” “what,” and why” of greening your school. Panelists from York County Solid Waste Authority, Fairmount Water Works, and Stroud Water Research Center joined representatives from four schools – Park Forest Elementary, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Greenwood Elementary and Blaine Academics Plus – to explore real world examples of the Eco-Schools Consumption and Waste and Water Pathways. Participants also engaged in interactive exercises that helped them to develop new ideas that could be implemented at their own schools.

William Cramp Elementary School, Philadelphia. Photo credit: Craig Johnson, Interpret Green

Based on feedback from that event about additional Pathways that schools were most interested in pursuing, NWF and our partners designed two webinar panels focused on Schoolyard Habitats and Healthy Schools. The first explored the creation of wildlife habitat and nature play spaces for schoolyards, playgrounds, and parks. Sandi Olek, Senior Policy Advisor for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Craig Johnson, Director of Interpret Green & Neighborhood Nature Works in Pennsylvania, shared research on the benefits of natural play and best practices from schools and other facilities that have incorporated nature play and habitat gardens into their grounds. The webinar is recorded online and may be accessed here.

In the second webinar Lisa Donohue and Lorna Rosenberg from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 shared guidance on how to prevent or remediate lead in drinking water and how to improve indoor air quality in schools. Michelle Niedermeier, Community Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Environmental Health Program Coordinator with the PA IPM Program, explained the human and environmental health impacts of pesticides and how to implement pesticide-free pest management programs in schools. A recording of that webinar is also available online and may be accessed here.

Second PAGHSP Forum. Johnstown, May 2017. Photo Credit: Holly Shields, NWF

The final stakeholder forum was held in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Envirothon at the University of Pittsburg Johnstown in May. This forum allowed NWF and our partners to engage high school teachers from almost every county in Pennsylvania, most of whom were unfamiliar with Eco-Schools USA or the Pennsylvania Green and Healthy Schools Partnership. After giving an overview of the program, we invited Robert Heinrich, Principal at Greater Johnstown High School, to present on how his school earned the Eco-Schools USA Silver Award and the critical role that their students played. Afterwards, we grouped participants by region and led them through exercises designed to help them create a green team and spark new sustainable school project ideas. This forum was particularly well received and participants praised the workshop saying: “I am so inspired after this!” and “This forum was extremely informative. I enjoyed learning about the different platforms to make schools more eco-friendly.”

National Wildlife Federation is committed to connecting the next generation of Americans with wildlife through programs like Eco-Schools, USA, partnerships such as Pennsylvania Green and Healthy Schools, and with the support of our members. As outlined in our new Strategic Plan, this is part of NWF’s larger effort to engage 25 million young people in conservation education and meaningful, recurring outdoor experiences that will connect them to nature and teach them to be skilled and effective in conservation as adults.

To learn more about our education programs and how you can join us in this critical mission, please contact me at shieldsh@nwf.org.

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