The room was packed with displays of petrified wood, watershed maps, garden seeds, gorgeous books—even a live bat! The Environmental Education Resource Fair was held on Tuesday, May 10, 2011, hosted by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and organized by the California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC), a statewide network supported by the California Department of Education. By bringing together the region’s environmental education organizations, the Resource Fair enabled teachers from throughout Santa Cruz County to gather information from multiple agencies, all in the space of an afternoon. Representatives of thirty different organizations were there, eager to talk with each teacher in order to better understand what can be done to help educators include environmental education in every student’s school day.
Where does environmental education fit into a packed school schedule? The answer should be—everywhere. Environmental education is simply using the environment as a context for teaching any subject. “Teachers have so much to teach in a year,” says high school teacher Monica Ward. “The great thing is that it (environmental education) is not teaching additional information, it is teaching the same material through a new perspective, an environmental lens.”
This is the concept at the heart of the programs represented at the Resource Fair. For example, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was spreading the word about its Voices of the Bay Program, in which teachers learn about an interdisciplinary and standards-based curriculum that teaches students about the dynamics of sustaining and managing natural resources, the socio-economic considerations and commerce of seafood, and the skills required to interview local members of the fishing community to capture their unique stories and knowledge.
The environmental education programs on display at the Resource Fair represented the diversity of the field and the amazing array of resources in our region—including garden-based programs, animal conservation groups, outdoor science schools, natural resource management programs, children’s book publishers, and museums. CREEC maintains an online searchable database of these and other resources to help teachers easily tie social studies, language arts, math, and other subjects to a context that is exciting and relevant to students’ daily lives.
Resource displays included real artifacts alongside brochures and curriculum and encouraged hands-on exploration.
The fair was also an opportunity to acknowledge the dedication of teachers. While the teachers were busy gathering new curriculum and field trip ideas, high school students from the county’s Regional Occupational Program were hard at work as well—treating the teachers to mini cream puffs, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, a sumptuous cheese platter, and other creative hors d’oeuvres they had prepared as part of a class providing training in event catering. Teachers were surprised and delighted not only by the delicious food but also by the generous raffle prizes donated by the community.
As the staff at Well Within Spa handed over a generous gift certificate for the raffle, they explained, “We all have teachers in our families. We love teachers! We know how important they are.” And by now all of us should know how important the environment is. The dedication and the resources are there—and the Environmental Education Resource Fair is one way to bring them together. Together we can build environmental literacy for every child.