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New requirement alters the nature of environmental education in Maryland

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An educational requirement will promotes environmental awareness, and it encourage hands-on learning that makes all lessons come alive.
Audubon Society
An educational requirement will promotes environmental awareness, and it encourage hands-on learning that makes all lessons come alive.

Under a new environmental education requirement in the state, students must be able to understand matter and energy, and study the significance of sustainability -- or, as 7-year-old Scott Holland says, why it's important to protect the environment and all of its creatures.

"Some people just pick a bunch of leaves off trees and grab bugs like this and squeeze them and it’s not nice," he says.

Karen Vernon, director of the camp at the Audubon Society, helped lobby for the new requirement. She says the requirement not only promotes environmental awareness, but it encourages the kind of learning that makes all lessons come alive.

"I think that a lot of kids find that this natural environment gives them an opportunity to express themselves in a way that they’re not able to inside the classroom," she says.

Still, Vernon sees some challenges.

"Schools have a lot of mandates that they are asked to fulfill and for teachers in the classroom it can be challenging," she says.

Plus, she says, there's no additional funding, so it could be difficult for teachers to get the training they need.

"And that's an issue for the teachers, how comfortable are they talking about environmental sciences. And truly, how comfortable are they going outside their classroom with their kids?" she asks.

But Maryland State Department of Education spokesperson Bill Reinhard says the requirement doesn't need additional funding because many schools already offer environmental education, and the topics will be integrated into existing subjects.

"It's not a separate course," he says. "But we think it's important that students have this as part of their high school education."

And, when it comes to environmental education, getting by with finite resources is all part of the lesson.

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