Environmental education: park programs inspire new leaders


In the fight against climate change, our children’s creative minds are our greatest resource and parks our sacred grounds. While parks and recreation departments across the country are known primarily as recreation centers for health, wellness, and entertainment, these agencies also play a vital role in protecting natural lands and increasing of the public’s environmental IQ.

Educators traditionally took students to parks for recreational picnics, play dates, and school trips, activities that usually have little to do with the environment. That’s why Broward County Parks and Recreation (Broward County, Fla.) Created the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Program in Parks – to change the way teachers see parks. The program encourages them to look beyond playgrounds and picnic tables and see parks as “living laboratories” – ideal places for environmental education.

Parks as living laboratories

In Broward County Parks, staff, students, teachers and community members have seen the positive effect of using the parks as a place for environmental education. The program integrates science, environmental awareness, and hands-on learning directly into the curricula, with the goal of inspiring future environmental leaders.

Broward County Parks manages nearly 6,300 acres of parkland. With proper training and personnel resources, portions of this land are used for environmental education on many topics: students learn about invasive species removal, animal carcass studies, the effects of weather conditions on animals, the implications of erosion, the landforms of the Earth, the lasting effects of pollution. Some of these educational activities adopt an experiential learning model, requiring students to analyze facts, feelings, findings, and future action plans. This model uses state and federal education standards as a springboard for broader and more effective environmental education courses that appeal to teachers.

Students from Awesome Olsen Middle School observe crab specimens at the Anne Kolb Nature Center as part of Broward County Parks’ STEAM in Parks program. Photo: Attiyya Atkins

Lessons outside the classroom

Education is not limited to the classroom. That’s why parks across the country should consider marketing their spaces as open-air environmental research centers.

The positive implications are far-reaching. For example, several students from Awesome Olsen Middle School in Dania Beach, Fla., Took a day trip to the nearby Anne Kolb Nature Center, a 1,500-acre coastal mangrove wetland. , as part of the STEAM in parks program. The group consisted of two groups of students and teachers: a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) class and a class that participates in the Global Scholars Program, an additional international study program in environmental education. .

At the Nature Center, students followed a guided trail to identify animals in their natural habitat, understand the impact of pollution and human waste on animal survival, and learn the importance of water conservation. . At the end of the excursion, students could differentiate between land crabs, mangrove crabs and fiddle crabs. They learned about the characteristics of black, red and white mangroves, as well as how they filter our water, protect the coast, and are home to many small creatures. The students also saw the negative ecological effects of the waste trapped in the mangroves.

Watch a short video on this field trip:

Students acquire environmental knowledge

The success of the event is measured by the progressive attitude of the students. Several of them entered an essay competition for Water Matters Day, Broward County’s annual celebration of water conservation. The essays allowed students to delve deeper into issues affecting our water supply, with four of them winning the competition. Here are some glimpses of their trials:

  • “We have a global problem with the amount of water we use, so we are encouraged to think about ways to save water,” wrote London J., of Awesome Olsen Middle School. He went on to suggest that people conserve water by showering instead of bathing and eating less meat products.
  • Another student, Daniel V., also from Awesome Olsen Middle School, wrote: “We know we have a ‘carbon footprint’, but we have to be careful of our ‘water footprint’.” He also urged people to conserve resources by using rainwater to water their lawns.

STEAM in Parks helps students to better understand and appreciate their environment by immersing them in the heart of the matter. With the support of teachers, programs like this help students learn to value parks and natural resources, which in turn creates a more environmentally conscious population.

schoolchildren discover lobster in the classroom at the center de la nature
At the Anne Kolb Nature Center, students discover lobster. Park manager and environmental educator Joanne Howes is leading the discussion. Photo: Attiyya Atkins

Resources for environmental education programs

Are you interested in implementing environmental education programs in your local park system? Check out the following resources.

Dr John Pipoly and Attiyya Atkins from Broward County Parks and Recreation will talk about parks, students and climate change in two sessions at the NRPA Conference (National Recreation and Park Association) in September 2019. You can sign up to watch the live stream of their sessions:

About the Author

Attiyya Atkins is a public communications specialist for Broward County Parks and Recreation. She is passionate about environmental education, park conservation and climate change research. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and spending time outdoors with her family.

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