By Alexis Petru on Feb 24, 2011

California Schools Launch 'One-of-a-Kind' Environmental Curriculum

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Do you want to be an environmental economist or green tech inventor when you grow up? California hopes its students will be the next generation of environmental leaders with a new statewide K-12 environmental education curriculum that began rolling out to school districts last fall.

California's new environmental curriculum starts in kindergarten. Photo: California EPA

The Education and Environment Initiative’s (EEI) final curriculum was approved by the California Board of Education last year as part of a 2005 state law.

“This is the first statewide environmental curriculum adopted in California,” says Mindy Fox, environment and education director for the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “This one-of-a-kind curriculum will be a model for other states and countries. We’re already receiving interest from other nations looking to develop similar programs.”

The EPA plans to implement the curriculum in 20 school districts in 2011 and is already working with 16 school districts across the state – from Guerneville in the north, Manteca in Central California and districts near San Diego in the south. The EPA aims to put the curriculum into practice in 100 percent of school districts by 2014 – reaching more than 6 million students in 1,000 school districts. Fox says these goals have not changed due to state budget constraints.

The new curriculum covers a variety of environmental topics such as sustainability, climate change, water, energy, recycling and resource conservation. One lesson for second-graders introduces rocks, minerals and their uses. High school seniors will learn about environmental economics, as well as state and federal environmental regulations and policies.

The curriculum was designed to be incorporated into current science and social science/history lessons, so as not to place “an extra burden on teachers,” according to the EPA website.

To develop the curriculum, the EPA tested lessons in 19 schools districts with more than 3,000 students and solicited feedback from teachers and students.

“Teachers were a valuable and critical voice in this process,” Fox says. “They are the ones in the trenches, implementing the curriculum. If they requested changes based on their needs, we made them. The result is an effective teaching tool that is user-friendly.”

Fox also notes that response to the EEI curriculum has been positive.

“Teachers have so much to teach in a year. The great thing about the EEI materials is that it is not teaching additional information, it is teaching the same material through a new perspective, an environmental lens,” says Monica Ward, a high school teacher at Riverside Unified School.

Perhaps most importantly, students are excited about the curriculum.

“Can school always be this way?” one sixth-grade student told the EPA in a survey. “I feel like I’m learning important information for my life.”

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