Join Me: Support the Growth of Environmental Education in Colorado

This post was written by Julie Gustafson, Senior Regional Education Manager working out of NWF’s Boulder, CO office

Yesterday, I took the opportunity to participate in the Colorado Department of Education’s (CDE) Denver focus group meant to inform the development of state high school graduation guidelines. As a local control state, the graduation guidelines developed by CDE will set a minimum that each Colorado school district’s graduation requirements must meet or exceed.

Physical and health education interests were well represented at the meeting—likely a result of getting organized to defend against program cuts in school districts struggling with unprecedented budget cuts and the impact this has had on PE and health teachers. They came out in force and their point was well made; they are greatly needed in light of growing obesity rates and associated astronomical health care costs across the state.  Their feedback spoke volumes about their necessity in ensuring a healthier future for our youth and reminded me how important it is to make your presence felt.

I was there because I believe very strongly in the value of environmental education (EE) and the potential for integrating it into broader educational standards, and its impact on students’ skills, including research, critical thinking, decision making and leadership.

(flickr | Lana_aka_BadGRL)

The Colorado Kids Outdoors Act required CDE to develop, and the State Board of Education to adopt, an Environmental Literacy Plan, and because of that we are poised for EE to take off across the state. However, I found myself reserved in advocating for EE in a room crowded with formal educators who have far more expertise than me in K- 12 education. I relented because the PE and health educators’ presence had taught me a valuable lesson:  those who show up in numbers, organize and participate are heard.

It is not too late for EE to do just that, and influence the process of developing  state high school graduation guidelines. But to be heard, we have to show up every time.

I understand how busy life is, and I understand that these meetings aren’t always our highest priority, but if Coloradans are serious about taking EE to new heights, now is the time to get started. Working with the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education (CAEE), I will try to make sure you are aware of the variety of opportunities to speak to education leadership about the value of Colorado’s draft Environmental Literacy Plan, the value of EE and the opportunity to support EE in formal education through the development of related graduation guidelines.

To let this opportunity pass would be a disserve to environmental education, to the teachers already practicing it, to the students who could benefit so greatly from it and to a country that sorely needs an engaged, environmentally literate citizenry.

The opportunities to engage will likely include: meeting participation, sign-on letters, phone calls and responsive feedback to proposed guidelines. We are also considering drafting a recommended environmental literacy guideline to propose in this process.

I am asking each person reading this to commit now to stepping outside your comfort zone and advocating for the field of EE and for an improved future for our youth and communities. The Colorado State Board of Education must adopt the high school graduation guidelines by December, so we must move now and through the fall.

The legislation requiring the new graduation requirements doesn’t dictate what those will look like, but throughout this process, you can. I am requesting you help make sure the conversation of graduation requirements grows from how many math and language arts courses are required, to illustrating what skill sets you want students to take into the world (whether they are bound for higher education or the workforce).

I realize what I am proposing may not provide the easiest route to assessment but I think it could provide a valuable route to achieving an environmentally literate generation at a time when improvements are greatly needed. The explanation of the legislation and a PDF presentation that drove the conversation yesterday can be found here. It only takes a couple minutes to review, and it is required reading if you are interested in supporting the growth of EE in Colorado.

The best way to stay apprised of opportunities to engage and be influential is to join the Coalition to Advance Environmental Literacy in Colorado. To join the coalition or view coalition members click here.

If you would like to connect with me personally about this, contact me at

Thank you, and here’s to a more sustainable future!