In 1990, H.R. Hungerford wrote that “creating an environmental commitment must go beyond awareness and knowledge. Environmental commitment is built by providing students with a sense of ownership and empowerment so that they are fully invested in an environmental sense and prompted to become responsible, active citizens.”
Building widespread environmental commitment, however, takes time, expertise, and coordination. And this fall, the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance is dedicating that time, expertise, and coordination to embark on a brand new undertaking—a landscape analysis of environmental education efforts in eight southeastern states.
Funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Pisces Foundation, the project will include a comprehensive study of the environmental education already happening on the ground, enabling the states involved to identify gaps and barriers to access that prevent successful implementation in some areas. The final report will also provide recommendations and next steps for increasing environmental literacy efforts in the southeast based on an inventory of model programs and initiatives happening nationwide.
This analysis and tailored state recommendations included in the report will equip organizations conducting environmental and conservation-related work in the southeast with the materials they need to address gaps, allocate resources more effectively, and, ultimately, meet the goal of increasing environmental literacy levels and stewardship behaviors. A strategy consultant and Kentucky Association for Environmental Education Executive Director Ashley Hoffman, along with state coordinators from environmental education associations in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, will collaborate on the year-long project.
“Although there are numerous organizations providing high-quality EE programs across the southeast, most of these are operating independently of one another, and little is being done to harness the collective impact of these programs to create large-scale change in each state or throughout the region,” Hoffman says. “This initiative will allow us to see the current landscape of environmental education in the southeast and help us to focus on larger-scale, capacity building initiatives that extend our impact beyond the local community.”
Upon conclusion of the analysis, the project leadership team will use the findings to begin strategic conversations determining next steps for initiating the development of a state-level strategy for each state. While the team will implement recommendations, they recognize that the next steps will be ongoing and include numerous stakeholders. With this in mind, the team will work throughout the project with key stakeholders and state environmental education associations to design the landscape analysis and report in a way that ensures it will be a tool that meets the various needs of all involved. The final report will serve as the first step to strengthen and improve the informal EE community to be able to deliver high-quality programs to students and conduct teacher trainings. The tool will also provide recommendations to systemically infuse environmental principles and concepts in formal school curricula that will aid in increasing and integrating EE into formal education systems.
Through stakeholder use of this report, educators in the eight states will have the tools to increase the number of students receiving high quality environmental education and broadening the competency of those students to demonstrate improved environmental literacy and age-appropriate stewardship behaviors.
“We are excited to embark on this work,” Hoffman says. “To have the capacity and funding to bring together and connect the hundreds of organizations doing environmental literacy work across the southeast is a huge opportunity to grow the environmental education movement."