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Seeding A New Future For Arizona’s Incarcerated

Two students prune a desert willow in the Whetstone garden.

Two students prune a desert willow in the Whetstone garden.

The speed limit on south Wilmot road is 50 miles per hour. Both sides of the road are lined by a mix of open Sonoran Desert, housing developments, and prisons. Occasionally, you will see guys in orange clothing picking up trash and filling potholes along the road. This drive will take you to many units in the Tucson Prison Complex, including the Whetstone Unit where an unconventional class takes place.

The Whetstone unit holds about 1,500 incarcerated men, most of whom are nearing the end of their sentence. Whetstone is a minimum-security prison, usually housing people with drug offenses or reduced charges for good behavior. All of these men will be going home in the next five years, some of them after being in prison most of their adult life.

The first time I entered the Whetstone Unit, I was going to sit in on a sustainability class and maybe share some gardening tips. I had no idea what to expect. Television gives us a very specific image of what prisons look and feel like. I assumed what I saw on TV wasn’t the whole truth, 

One of the ten plots in the Whetstone garden.

One of the ten plots in the Whetstone garden.

but I did not have any information otherwise. What I experienced that day was some of the most attentive and respectful students I have ever met. A class of twenty men were excited to hear what I, a twenty-year-old college student, had to say, and wanted nothing more than to plant and tend to a garden. I left with the immediate feeling of needing to return. These men were students in a class, but they were also fathers, brothers, sons, and people who had way more life experience than me. I had much to learn from them, and they wanted to hear more from me.

Fast forward three years and I am now the Program Coordinator for the Whetstone Prison Project (WPP). The WPP teaches a 12-week sustainability workshop at the Whetstone Unit twice a year. The workshop frames issues of climate change, environmental justice, and green infrastructure skills through garden-based learning. Ten University of Arizona interns create and teach educational content for the incarcerated students, and work on verifying and connections with housing resources to aid our students in a smooth transition back into society. The project aims at lowering Arizona’s recidivism rates by interrupting the prison industrial complex with environmental education. 

A student admires a passive water harvesting system that was created by classmates.

A student admires a passive water harvesting system that was created by classmates.

The WPP was born out of the knowledge that education can break cycles of poverty, that we are in a critical moment in combating the climate crisis, and that the United States of America has the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world. This information has shaped a project that allows incarcerated and university students to come together to discuss what safety and sustainability truly mean, and learn from life stories of each other. The importance of showing up for your community is the center of our work, and we are making strides to a safer and more sustainable world along the way.

Meet the 2020 Excellence in EE Award Winners!

Wow! 2020 was a memorable year to say the least. Despite unprecedented local and global challenges facing our communities, Arizona environmental educators stepped up to meet the challenge. Each year the Arizona Association for Environmental Education honors the individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on environmental education in Arizona. Although we couldn’t do the awards ceremony in person this year, we had a blast celebrating these leaders at our 2020 year-end virtual mixer. Scroll down to meet the amazing Excellence in EE Award winners of 2020, and stay tuned for more details from the nominators about what makes each of these EE organizations and individuals so exceptional!

2020 Outstanding Environmental Educator of the Year – Ellen Bashor

Ellen is the Education Director at the City of Prescott’s Community Nature Center and the Environmental Education instructor for Prescott College. In 2020, Ellen revived an underutilized piece of city open space property called the Community Nature Center Open Space Preserve and developed an intergovernmental agreement between the City of Prescott and Prescott Unified School District to provide free outdoor and environmental programming for K-6 public school students without adult care, meal, and virtual learning options available to them during the pandemic. This program was so successful that, as the district returned to in-person learning, teachers and school programs have continued this outdoor and environmental learning relationship. In less than a year, thousands of students have received services from the Community Nature Center, averaging 100-200 student visitors a week. The district and city plan to continue the partnership under the shared goal of increasing access to healthy outdoor learning and recreation for all public school students in the area.

www.prescottcommunitynaturecenter.org

2020 Outstanding Environmental Education Program – Camp Colley

The Camp Colley foundation provides wilderness experiences and environmental education for underserved Phoenix children to nurture healthy development and resilience, foster meaningful relationships, and encourage wilderness exploration. Since its inception in 2005, the nonprofit Camp Colley Foundation has focused on funding camper scholarships and investing in facilities at their City of Phoenix owned camp in the Coconino National Forest. Camp Colley. Despite major pandemic setbacks deterring their opening of the summer camp, the Foundation quickly pivoted to virtual environmental education programming as an alternative to reach kids while keeping them and their families safe. The result was the Camp Colley Foundation’s free Virtual Environmental Learning Program which consisted of nine online activity sheets and accompanying videos which guided children and families to have fun, learn, and connect with nature right from their own home.

www.campcolley.org

2020 Outstanding Business Committed to Environmental Education – Desert Awareness Committee of Foothills Community Foundation

The Desert Awareness Committee is an organization under the 501c3 non-profit Foothills Community Foundation serving the North Phoenix communities of Scottsdale, Carefree, Cave Creek, and Wickenburg. Their environmental education activities include those for children and adults, schools and scouts, private organizations associated with homeowners groups, live-in care facilities, and more! Since 2004 the Desert Awareness Committee has been presenting our highly acclaimed free environmental program to all fourth graders in the schools of the Cave Creek School District as well as local charter and private schools and youth programs. Their members have also written 3 books, “The Fragile Desert”, “Chloe and the Desert Heroes”, and “Our Tastes of the Desert”. Due to the pandemic restrictions, their members were unable to bring classes to the park so they innovated and created a virtual tour of the park to be used in online instructions. This video will continue to be used by Cave Creeks students in 2021 in service to their mission of “educating all ages about the Sonoran Desert.”.

www.hollandcenter.org/programs/desert-awareness-committee

2020 Young Environmental Education Professional – Erin Scott

Erin Scott has been working as the unofficial program coordinator for the Whetstone Prison Project (WPP) for nearly 3 years. She took over the bare-bones program in 2017 as a full-time art student and at the time, the program had just begun a garden at the Whetstone prison unit in Tucson, AZ. Erin has grown the program considerably, creating & teaching her own lesson plans and forging connections community organizations to bring in further expertise. In February 2020, Erin wrote and was awarded an $84k grant to support this project. Since then, WPP has expanded from a simple garden at the prison to a full workshop for the inmates; and this project now has University support with Erin as a paid program coordinator, another graduate assistant, and a four-credit course with a dozen interns. Erin’s next step is to roll the WPP into a non-profit organization and to expand this amazing opportunity to inmates in other prison units.

www.instagram.com/whetstonepp

2020 Outstanding School Committed to Environmental Education – Tucson Unified School District’s School Garden Network

TUSD’s School Garden Network delivers high quality environmental education programming to a diverse community of K-12 students, University of Arizona (UA) students, parents, and K-12 educators. TUSD serves an 80% non-white student population with 70% of students qualifying for Federal Free and Reduced Lunch. Over the 2019-2020 School Year TUSD SGN delivered broad reaching environmental education programming in collaboration with University of Arizona Community and School Garden Program. Before pandemic closures, the Network hosted a STEM EE Conference with 40 participants and 30 K-12 teacher trainings and a Green Academy Workshop Series impacting 91 educators and reaching 3,000+ students,. Quickly adapting to pandemic restrictions, the Garden Network took action to reduce the social and academic impacts of the pandemic on TUSD students. To do this, they distributed 50 computers to in-need TUSD families, provided K-12 distance environmental education and virtual teacher support, and coordinated groups of UA students to restore gardens in preparation for the return to in-person learning in 2021.

www.schoolgardens.arizona.edu

2020 Outstanding Inclusion Programming in Environmental Education – Ironwood Tree Experience

Ironwood Tree Experience, led by Suzy and Eric Dhruv, is  an organization has been committed to the diversity of its board of directors, staff, and participants since its inception. Through it’s 15 years as an organization it has only increased this commitment and has become even more focused and conscious of efforts to become inclusive. Especially important is the opportunities and encouragement that ITE provides for youth participants to engage in their community as leaders. Just as one example of this commitment is ITE’s Youth Action Corps (YAC), where teens are encouraged to embrace their love of nature, people, and community by engaging in activities, initiatives, internships, and programs through Conservation & Restoration, Environmental Education, and Sustainable Community Development! In 2020, ITE continued to provide a virtual and safe space and guidance for a diverse and inclusive community to grow in supporting youth leadership in the Tucson area.

www.ironwoodtreeexperience.org

2020 Lifetime Achievement in Environmental Education – David Pijawka

After 37 years at Arizona State University professor David Pijawka stands out for his commitment, leadership, and impact in delivering environmental education for university students, the Arizona community, and the academic profession. This year he retired as Professor Emeritus after mentoring around 35 doctoral students to complete their PhDs and many Masters students through their theses or Applied Projects mostly on environmental topics found in Urban Planning and Sustainability. This outstanding commitment to environmental education does not stop with student mentoring but includes over sixteen national awards given to his graduate students for their achievements in environmental research and service to the profession. Teaching in two disciplines, Urban Planning and Sustainability, he is known for introducing interdisciplinary environmental education to students, developing education programs, and providing the latest and pressing information on issues related to environmental justice, hazards and resiliency, socio- ecological modeling, as well as urban sustainability planning and global needs.

www,sgsup.asu.edu/david-pijawka

The University of Arizona Garden Kitchen

Today’s conversation is with Jennifer Parlin, Assistant in Extension, for The Garden Kitchen. The Garden Kitchen, located in South Tucson, is a University of Arizona Cooperative Extension program established in partnership with the City of South Tucson, Pima County, and the University of Arizona. The Garden Kitchen’s mission is to empower Pima County residents to build community wellness and make healthier choices through food, fitness, and gardening education.

According to Making Action Possible in Southern Arizona, in 2017, 137,450 individuals in Tucson had limited access to food.

Broader food security on the other hand, proved an issue for nearly one million people in Arizona. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization defines food security as a circumstance that “exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Food insecurity, and particularly the inability to access food, can be heightened by many factors, including household composition, race/ethnicity, income-to-poverty ratio, area of residence and even census region. With stay-at-home orders, overwhelmed pantries, school closings, and unemployment rates rising due to COVID-19, vulnerable households are being impacted even more by food insecurity and access.

Many organizations within Tucson work with communities to increase access to affordable and nutritious foods in areas where they are needed. One such organization is The Garden Kitchen, which itself is located in the middle of a food desert. A food desert refers to a geographic area with where people have low access to food. These areas are often the result of food apartheid, a term coined by food justice activist Karen Washington that roots the disparities of food access and systems in discrimination, racism, and other systemic issues. Indeed, food insecurity and the lack of nutritious resources affect many families in the 1.2 square mile city of South Tucson, with many minority groups such as Hispanic and Native American communities, single mothers, grandparents, the indigent, and LGTBQ+ individuals experiencing homelessness being disproportionately affected. As an organization, The Garden Kitchen aims to increase food security and the availability of healthy foods for everyone, including these underrepresented communities. They partner with organizations in Pima County to change policies, systems, and environments to address health issues by making healthy lifestyle choices equitably accessible to all community members.

The Garden Kitchen is funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) program, an evidence-based program that teaches qualified individuals how to shop for and cook healthy meals, and stretch their food dollars. By nature of their partnerships, they reach out to a variety of audiences, including those who access SNAP benefits and those who are involved with community gardens and classes through other community organizations.  Building trust is a top priority when working with communities within Tucson — not just with state and university partners, but also with local and grassroots communities. Trust is a component that can be difficult to establish, particularly when dominant systems and actors have participated in marginalization, but it is essential to the evolution of work and exchange of knowledge in the Tucson community.

Tackling food access is not just about education or having geographic proximity to food. The Garden Kitchen is also involved in suggesting changes at the policy level in many communities within Pima County, such as initiatives to serve healthy food options at events, change vending machine choices, and empower families to select healthier foods. Policies around food make some food items harder to get based on location, price, quality and availability. This can include organic, cultural, and non-fast food choices. The fewer resources (e.g. time, money, transportation) someone has, the more likely they are to be in a position where they consume the food they can access. By partnering with different community organizations at the policy level, The Garden Kitchen is able to have longer lasting effects with their efforts. The Garden Kitchen advocates for policies that make nutritious foods convenient, affordable and appealing, as these factors contribute to people changing their consumer habits.

While providing their own support to the Tucson community is an important part of The Garden Kitchen’s mission, so too is empowerment. The Garden Kitchen works with community members to be in charge of their own health. Before COVID-19 changes, The Garden Kitchen would hold free weekly and monthly events, such as “First Fit Saturdays,” which welcomes all community members monthly to get involved with gardening, cooking, and physical activity. They would also host a “Gardening Hour” each week to provide a space for locals to learn about home gardening and to allow them to harvest produce.

Although they aren’t currently hosting any in person events, they have provided online resources regarding food security, employment, sanitation, wellness and community gardens. More than ever, the conversation around food security, access and the systems which shape them must be addressed. How is health and wellness being advocated for in your community?

#HowWeNature is a series of posts dedicated to conversations about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in Tucson’s natural history programming. This post was written by AAEE intern, Phoebe Warren. Phoebe is a student at Appalachian State University who is majoring in communication studies with a minor in sociology.

Questions to ponder: How can you advocate for the health and wellness of everyone in your community? Are you reaching out to and welcoming underserved communities to your spaces? Are you including accurate cultural history in your teachings?

The Garden Kitchen is always in need of volunteers who are knowledgeable about gardens, food sources, and culture. Check out their ‘Get Involved’ page at https://thegardenkitchen.org/get-involved/ to learn more.

Meet the Board of Directors!

WOW! None of us expected to start the year in a pandemic, but here we are. Navigating the challenges and changes of 2020 has been difficult for all of us. That is why we are so grateful to have a team of amazing professional Environmental Educators leading this organization–Educators who, like you, are dedicated to collaboration, innovation, and justice in our field.

We want YOU to get to know US!

President, Interim Executive Director, and Professional Development Committee Co-Chair: LoriAnne Barnett

Why is EE important to you?  EE is critical to helping people understand our interconnectivity and the impact of our choices!

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors?  I wanted to join the board to help me become a better leader and learn from other great leaders in the field.

Board of Directors and Marketing and Membership Committee Chair: Ellen Bashor

Why is EE important to you? EE is important to me because I believe so whole-heartedly that it is our best chance for protecting and restoring the well-being of human and ecological communities, as well as reviving the dignity & justice that belongs to all living beings and systems. EE is important to me because it gives me hope.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the board because I see this organization & team of leaders as a vehicle for the change our world so desperately needs. The hope, energy, and dedication of the EE community has given me so much inspiration & guidance in my life; I believe it is my heart’s work & duty to give that in return.

Board of Directors, Treasurer, and Resources Working Group Chair: Lisa Ristuccia

Why is EE important to you? EE is important to me because it connects us to nature, ourselves, and others in a meaningful way.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the AAEE board to connect with people who have a common passion & interest so that, together, we can make meaningful, positive change.

Board of Directors, Secretary, and Certification Committee Chair: Staci Grady

Why is EE important to you? EE restores a lost connection to our place in ecology and heals our relationship with all parts of the world around us.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? Serving on the board gives me an opportunity to participate actively in a passion and a fundamental belief in the role humans should play in the world.

Board of Directors and Early Childhood Environmental Education Working Group Chair: Diona Williams

Why is EE important to you? In the last 18 years I have witnessed first hand as an Early Childhood Education professional the decrease of outdoor play with young children. I have witnessed first hand the effects of young children being indoors and the increased fear of what will happen if they go outside. There’s an increase in certain behaviors, lack of self-awareness with children & parents, an increase in obesity & sensory processing issues (touch, taste, etc.) too. EE is important to me because I know the work I am doing will have an impact on a larger scale, therefore it can change the lives of young children & adults. EE also helps me push past my own boundaries.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the board to increase EE within in the Early Childhood Education community, gain more leadership skills, learn more about EE, and connect with more of the EE network system.

Board of Directors and Professional Development Committee Co-Chair: Bret Muter

Why is EE important to you?  EE is important because our future, our children’s future, and our quality of life depends on it. EE helps us develop a sense of place and connect with our community in a meaningful and life-changing way.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the board to connect and work with inspiring EE leaders around the state and to help advance the EE field in Arizona.

 

Board of Directors: Jessie Rack

Why is EE important to you? EE is important to me because it can: restore the lost connection between humans and their environment, create environmental stewards, and engage people of all ages to invest in nature & conservation issues.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the board to be on the forefront of EE in Arizona. I want to help build a community of engaged, effective educators that can change and deepen education in Arizona.

 

 

Board of Directors: Josh Hoskinson

 Why is EE important to you? EE is one of the best ways to enact social change. EE is the best way to stay connected to our environment.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the board to develop meaningful connections with other folks in EE, help provide/gain access to PD opportunities in EE to stay current in my field, and improve EE in Arizona.

 

 

 

Are YOU interested in joining our Board of Directors? Email president@arizonaee.org for more information.

EE Organizations in the Pandemic

by Kelly Jay Smith, University of Arizona

In the wake of pandemic many Environmental Education (EE) organizations across Arizona and the nation have been experiencing major setbacks.

In an attempt to measure the effects of the pandemic on the EE field, the Lawrence Hall of Science – part of the University of California Berkeley, surveyed nearly 1,000 EE organizations. They found the 63% percent of EE & outdoor science organizations are not if they will be able to open again if pandemic restrictions and impacts last until the end of the year.

You can read the full policy briefing from this study at:

The Impact of COVID-19 on Environmental Education and Outdoor Science Education

However, with science museums, residential programs, and other formal/informal environmental & science education institutions not able to engage the public in the usual face-to-face programs throughout the pandemic, new ways of engaging the public in a safe way have been coming to the forefront.  The Lawerence Hall of Science has attempted to be a part of this solution.  Lawerence Hall of Science, the developer of the Amplify Science, FOSS, and SEPUP science curriculums, has coordinated with the publishers of these curriculums to make sure environmental & science learning can continue at home.  This includes providing access to digital simulations, video lessons, allowing unregistered user access to websites, and much more.  You can learn more about what they are offering by following the link below.

https://www.lawrencehallofscience.org/about/newsroom/in_the_news/learning-at-home

This same type of innovation can be found here close to home in Arizona, as well.  The Cooper Center for Environmental Learning has created Camp Cooper Online – a free video series for K-5 students.  These videos created by the educators at the Cooper Center have created activities that can be done at home while viewing the videos.  More information about what the Cooper Center is doing can be found in the link below.      

https://coopercenter.arizona.edu/

Environmental Education has always been about exploring the world around us.  During this unprecedented time in our history, using innovative ways to bring both science and environmental education into the home is more important than ever.

Community Science in Conservation

by Annia Quiroz of Central Arizona Conservation Alliance

What is public participation in scientific research (PPSR)? PPSR is more commonly known as community science aka citizen science. These are initiatives where the public is involved in one or more phases of scientific research from defining questions to using results. A few years ago organizations began recognizing the limitations of the word “citizen”. The word citizen in citizen science was originally intended to distinguish amateur data collectors from professional scientists, not to describe the citizenship status of the volunteers. No matter where a volunteer was born their contribution to science and conservation programs is valued. 

Not only this, but the term community science also means we must expand how we think about the process of community science. It involves local knowledge, collective action and empowerment. By creating an even more collaborative process, bringing in the community scientists to participate in the decision making, communities are drawing closer to better conservation and livelihood outcomes, that are in synergy with local ecosystem-based management trends.

One common question asked by participating volunteers is, “what are the impacts out work has and how is the data collected used”? This is a great question.

Community science can have many uses and impacts. Some examples are: 

  1. Development of plans (ie. safety, management, restoration)
  2. Community resiliency and preparedness
  3. Policy
  4. Floristic inventories and herbarium collections
  5. Further research and research questions
  6. Community scientists as ambassadors!

It needs to be said that this isn’t an all-inclusive list and one we are still learning about. Touching on number 6, community science is critically important as the need for community input in scientific processes and policy development are ever more clear. While the contribution of data for specific projects is very valuable to scientific research, we cannot understate the importance of the community scientists themselves. 

Not only do they gathering data and participate in the scientific process but, through this participation, their passion and experiences they become ambassadors and champions of the work. They play a critical role in sharing important messages of conservation, or whatever the project entails. 

There are many different ways to get involved in community science projects. For example, two initiatives the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance is helping lead:

  1. The Metro Phoenix EcoFlora project

The EcoFlora project is a community science project using iNaturalist to learn more about the biodiversity of Metro Phoenix. Urban ecosystems are understudied, and plants are especially overlooked. Every month you can also join a new EcoQuest; hide-and-seek games for urban biodiversity, seeking certain plants or plant interactions. Their results provide information for research, such as pollinator counts, invasive species mapping, or wildlife habitat.

  1. Desert Defenders  

Desert Defenders is a community science program focused on finding, mapping and removing invasive species at local parks, preserves and natural areas. Invasive species are one of the biggest threats to healthy ecosystems. The data collected through the tireless work of our Defenders is crucial for park staff and land managers to protect the desert parks we all love.

More community science links:

https://cazca.org/project/desert-defenders/

https://cazca.org/project/metro-phoenix-ecoflora/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901119300942

https://gsmit.org/why-we-are-changing-citizen-science-to-community-science/

Outdoor Classrooms as Plan A for Reopening Schools

Outdoor Classrooms as Plan A for Reopening Schools

As states, districts, principals, teachers, and parents are trying to decide if, and when, students should return to school, here is something to consider: What if Outdoor Classrooms were Plan A for reopening schools?

Using the outdoors can provide a cost effective way to assist with social distancing and increase school capacity. Having students utilize outdoor classrooms for at least part of the day has many benefits. It provides a place for social learning and collaboration; fresh air; hands-on learning opportunities; and therapeutic quiet, reflective spaces. The air quality is generally better outside than inside and some studies have shown that “environmental conditions, such as wind and sunlight, may reduce the amount of virus present on a surface and the length of time the virus can stay viable.”(Green Schoolyards)

Opening schools by utilizing the outdoors can also be a way to address the issues of equity; academic and social learning; and mental, physical, and emotional health.

Green Schoolyards, in collaboration with the Lawrence Hall of Science, Ten Strands, and San Mateo County Office of Education’s Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative, are working on a plan to assist schools with reopening by using the outdoors as a way to provide a safer, more engaging, Plan A.

Green Schoolyards is developing resources to assist schools with the logistics of outdoor classrooms. They have downloadable resources such free schoolyard activity guides including:

The Green Schoolyards website also includes case studies of model programs and a section with multiple news articles related to outdoor learning.

Guides for national and state guidance and policies for COVID-19 planning considerations for reopening schools can be found at https://www.greenschoolyards.org/covid-19-guidance It includes guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for Disease Control and Prevention; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; American Camp Association; North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE); California Department of Education; California Department of Public Health; and the Florida Department of Education.

 

Okay, so we know that getting kids outdoors can be a good thing, but how should schools design their landscape to encourage outdoor learning? Green Schoolyards has launched a new, pro bono landscape design assistance program that partners schools with volunteer designers to assist with the process.

 

 

Green Schoolyards also has downloadable tools and resources including Outdoor Infrastructure Planning Overview, Outdoor Classroom Configuration Options, and Outdoor Infrastructure Cost Estimate Tool. https://www.greenschoolyards.org/outdoor-infrastructure

Do you want to get involved with helping to shape the national initiative of Outdoor Classrooms? Green Schoolyards has convened working groups to do just that. The working groups will collaborate to write chapters of what will be a comprehensive, online resource book that will be available as a free download once it is completed.

They welcome teachers, administrators, parents, engineers, companies, non-profit organizations, informal educators, and others to join the initiative by participating in one or more of the working groups. The working groups include the following:

  1. Plans to ensure equity
  2. Outdoor classroom infrastructure
  3. Park/school collaboration
  4. Outdoor learning & instructional models
  5. Staffing & formal/nonformal partnerships
  6. School program integration (with PE, recess, before/after care)
  7. Community engagement
  8. Health & safety considerations
  9. Local & state policy shifts
  10. Funding & economic models
  11. Community of practice for Early Adopters

Get involved and help shape the Outdoor Classroom initiative! More information about the working groups can be found at: https://www.greenschoolyards.org/working-groups

Let’s work together to create healthy learning environments!

Arizon-Wha?!

ARIZON-WHA?! 

We’re starting a new column! Stay tuned for funky new mystery species with every newsletter.

Can you identify this ferocious-looking critter? 

Clue: They are found underground around Arizona in early September. 

Take a guess, then scroll to the bottom of this newsletter for the answer! (or however you want to do it)

Photo by Jessie Rack

Answer to this issue’s ARIZON-WHA?! Photo challenge:

If you guessed beetle grub, congratulations! Since it’s a white grub, we can identify this big chunk as belonging to the scarab beetle family, Scarabaeidae. Due to its size and the location where it was found, it’s pretty likely that this one is a baby Western Hercules Beetle, Dynastes grantii. Larvae of this species can spend 2-3 years as a crazy-looking underground monster like our friend up above, but once they’ve developed into adults they only live for 2-4 months. As grubs, they eat decaying plant material (that makes them decomposers, y’all!) but as adults they feed on tree sap by making a small wound in the tree (this doesn’t hurt the tree). I’ll give you a dollar if you eat it. 

Have you seen weird nature stuff around Arizona? Submit your photos to membership@arizonaee.org for the chance to have them published in a future edition of ARIZON-WHA?!

 

Jessie Rack is a Board Member at AAEE. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in the spring of 2016. She is currently the Program Coordinator of the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities (SEEC) Program, an offshoot of the Community and School Garden Program at the University of Arizona.

Urban School Gardens: A Nature Niche

by Jessie Rack

The world’s intrinsic beauty and complexity is a never-ending source of inspiration for educators. And we’ve all seen the results of being outside on our students, no matter what age — immersion in nature invites focus, observation, and simple noticing. Students with behavior or attention issues are sometimes stabilized in an outdoor environment. The smallest insect or rock becomes a fascination, and questions bloom without effort. 

As environmental educators, we don’t need to be told about the benefits of taking our students outside. In the last two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of studies on outdoor education, with authors citing results like better grades, higher test scores, and improvements in focusing attention and regulating behavior. But for those of us who, like more than 80% of the US population live in urban areas, helping our students reap the benefits of the outdoors is sometimes more complicated than simply taking them outside of the school. So how do we give urban children the experience and benefits of playing and learning outside? One way to do it is through school gardens. 

This approach works because school gardens occupy something of an in-between space: they are not quite the structured, rule-bound, indoor world of the classroom, and yet also not the unstructured freedom of the open desert, or the forest, or even the playground. And yet they encompass aspects of all of those spaces. Gardens are a place in which collaboration and communication happen naturally, in which rules are still followed, but in which students can learn from experience and from others, and can literally get their hands dirty, while their teachers can still achieve their curricular objectives and meet state and national standards.

There has also been a lot of research about the benefits of school gardens specifically – it’s been something of a hot topic for the past couple of decades. Research is ongoing, but it seems that school gardens can affect students in a variety of ways. These range from the most obvious areas of healthy eating, nutrition, and science to more subtle impacts such as positive social and emotional skills, group collaboration, and even increased environmental stewardship. 

With all of this in mind, stay tuned for a series of AAEE newsletter articles about school gardens. In future editions, I will be sharing some tips for starting and maintaining school gardens, and for using these gardens to fill the nature niche that many urban schools lack. My position, with the University of Arizona’s Community and School Garden Program, is unique; I run the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities Program, in which I work directly with students at Title I schools, providing weekly environmental education lessons to students at these low-resource urban schools in Tucson. I also work with my colleagues to install school gardens at schools around Tucson and to help train teachers to take care of the gardens and to use gardens in their curricula, using the gardens and outdoor spaces at the schools as living laboratories to get students outside and immersed in nature. No matter the age group or ability level, school gardens are an effective tool for engaging students, for improving focus and achievement, and for getting kids excited about their environment. And, of course, for getting a little dirty.

 

Jessie is a Board Member at AAEE. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in the spring of 2016. She is currently the Program Coordinator of the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities (SEEC) Program, an offshoot of the Community and School Garden Program at the University of Arizona.

Interview with an Environmental Educator: Joining Together

As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future.”

Elise Dillingham: Program Coordinator, Desert Research Learning Center

What is your professional role and how does Environmental Education help you do that work? 

My professional role is the Program Coordinator of the National Park Service’s Desert Research Learning Center (DRLC). The DRLC is home to a diverse team of scientists that oversee the inventory and monitoring of natural resources at Sonoran Desert national parks (11 total). In addition to conducting research, DRLC staff utilize environmental education to promote the scientific understanding, protection, and conservation of Sonoran Desert national parks. Environmental education enables us to share the marvel of the Sonoran Desert, facilitate science communication, and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. 

Who is your primary audience in your work and what outreach do you offer that audience? 

The DRLC’s primary audience is high school and college students ranging in age from 14-22.  We provide internships, citizen science and volunteer opportunities, and programs for student groups.

Why is Environmental Education important to the work that you do?

Environmental education is important to our work because it enables engagement of diverse audiences outside traditional land management realms. It elevates the visibility of science in the National Park Service and increases awareness of conservation issues facing national parks. At the DRLC, environmental education enables scientists to reach broad audiences beyond our peers, which builds support for science and reinforces its relevance.

What are your entry points for engaging your audiences in Environmental Education, Environmental Studies, science, etc.?

Sonoran Desert flora and fauna that exist in urban settings are an entry point for environmental education. We often use these familiar and seemingly mundane species to open doors into the wondrous natural history and ecology of the Sonoran Desert.

 

Who do you consider underrepresented audiences and what are the challenges you face in reaching them?

Students with disabilities are one underrepresented audience that we have actively been trying to reach. Accessibility in outdoor settings is one challenge that we must overcome when engaging with this audience. To help overcome this, we offer programs designed for people with disabilities and have increased wheelchair-accessible activities and amenities at the DRLC. 

How can we all do better?

I believe the strength of the EE community lies in the knowledge of educators, the curiosity of students, and the passion of both. These attributes foster critical thinking and innovation, which are desperately needed to combat our planet’s climate emergency. As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future. The more we collaborate and play off each other’s strengths, the better.