The roots of environmental education organization in Arizona began informally in the 1970’s as the Arizona Association for Learning in and about the Environment (AALE). In 1980, AALE officially registered as a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. From its beginning, AALE worked to advance environmental literacy within Arizona and provide support in the form of professional development for environmental educators across the state. AALE accomplished much of its work through a series of educational conferences and planning sessions to increase the level of excellence in teaching methods in environmental education (EE).
In 2000, AALE renamed itself the Arizona Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) and reshaped its vision to strengthen its place as a leader in advancing EE throughout the state. At this time a Board of Directors was established and plans began to create the first EE online resource for Arizona educators began. While developing the website, AAEE continued to host professional development opportunities in the form of statewide conferences and regional workshops.
Today, AAEE has established its leadership role through a variety of projects that extend beyond conferences and workshops. In 2009, we brought together the best and brightest in EE to begin plans for a statewide environmental literacy plan that establishes a framework for quality EE to be integrated into all primary and secondary schools. This plan will be carried forth through the adoption of the AAEE initiated Arizona Framework for Environmental Concepts and Themes (AFECT) which correlates EE concepts with the Arizona State Academic Standards. The Arizona Department of Education plans to promote these crosswalks as AAEE completes student environmental literacy surveys to assess the relationship between EE and academic achievement through data collection and analysis.
We also are creating mechanisms for information sharing amongst educators statewide, such as our Day in the Sun for EE Schools, our EE Resource Database, and partner teams of formal and non-formal educators. We hope these partner teams will serve as models for partnering schools with local non-formal environmental educators in all regions of the state, providing support for EE integration across all K-12 curricula.
AAEE also strives to support the environmental literacy plan through a network of highly qualified non-formal educators. In 2010, we began a pilot program to establish the first cohort of certified EE professionals in the state.
In addition to the statewide literacy plan, AAEE also pursues environmental literacy through out of school and family learning opportunities. Our most significant initiative in this area has been bringing the concept of Nature Quests to the state. These nature-based treasure hunts connect families and schools to place-based learning through physical activity. In partnership with Arizona Audubon and Be Outdoors Arizona, AAEE established the Nature Quest Arizona website which serves as a clearing house and engagement center for all Nature Quests within Arizona.
Looking toward the future, AAEE plans to firmly establish the connection between non-formal and formal learning by continuing partnerships and advocating for integration of EE standards into the statewide framework. We will also formalize the EE certification program and establish a wide network of certified educators. We will continue to advance the use of Nature Quests throughout the state through innovative partnerships and programs. We will continually seek to grow our resource database and increase educator access to professional development through establishing partnerships and granting opportunities in order to leverage the skills of our member organizations.
Our goal will continue to be to advance high-quality EE throughout the state in order to grow foster environmentally literate and actively engaged citizens that advance the health and well-being of our local and global human and ecological communities.