Youth Environmental Education

Charles Sayan, the co-founder and executive director of the California-based Ocean Conservation Society, states that environmental education is just as important as understanding and following the law. It is a nonpartisan value that “deserves a central place in public education”.

Public schools in the U.S. focus on academic related subjects, such as math, science, history, and English, helping students broaden their understanding of the world. Additionally, students also may have classes like physical education, health, and social counseling to improve their mental and physical health. However, as students are taught to protect their personal health, they are less likely to be taught about the environment. What often goes unnoticed is how closely interrelated environmental health is to human health. 

Teaching students to appreciate the environment and learn the ways humans interact with the environment not only protect the health of the entire human population, but it also encourages students to transcend their abilities outside the classroom and into the real world. For example, young students in elementary school are most likely not going to understand the ins and out of calculus or physics and become expert engineers at the age of 10. However, one of the easiest things young students can learn to comprehend is how to protect the planet. We’re lucky that being able to interact with the planet can also make it simpler and quicker to understand it. By bringing to light environmental issues to students at an early age, schools and teachers can cultivate students with a strong foundation of environmental stewardship and understanding. With this understanding, students build the necessary skills and knowledge to responsibly address environmental issues in the future to better the planet. 

Recently, the Youth Climate Action Team Inc. has implemented its first Climate Extracurricular Education program to virtually teach elementary school students in Fairfax County some selected environmental issues. In our first program, we partnered with McLean High School’s Science National Honor Society to set up four time periods to teach two fifth grade classes from Kent Gardens Elementary School in Fairfax County. We had a few volunteers from YCAT’s CEE subcommittee and a few from SNHS to teach the students in each class. Before the lessons, the volunteers created presentations on Global Warming and Deforestation with interactive videos, padlet activities, discussion activities, and more. For each class, we also set up a friendly Sustainable Habits Challenge, where the students were encouraged to record their participation from a list of sustainable habits. At the end of the lesson, many students were able to enhance their understanding of these environmental issues. 

Hearing many of the students say that they were “shocked”, “scared”, and “sad” about these issues, I realized that these emotions were the key for young students to begin their environmental activism. These students did not need to be experts in these environmental issues to feel motivated to protect the planet. All they needed was information that this issue exists and that they are the ones that can reverse the damages caused by it. That enough was able to make these students realize that they have the power to change the world for the better. Many of the students participated in almost all of the Sustainable Habits Challenges, which included turning off the faucet, turning off the light, going for a bike ride, taking a shorter shower, unplugging unused chargers, and telling their parents or guardians to use reusable bags. They easily followed these suggestions that were provided to them because they were first introduced to the consequences of global warming and deforestation. 

But of course, environmental education is not only limited to young students in elementary schools. Our CEE program was also an enriching experience for the high school volunteers to learn more about these issues. One belief that I strongly stand by is that you are able to understand something better if you can teach it. Watching the interactive projects and listening to the videos from the presentation, I felt myself also appreciating and understanding the planet more. We interact with the planet every day, every minute of our lives, yet so many of us don’t know how or why because environmental education is not always enforced in our school education systems. Hopefully, we can change that.