environmental education K-12 CaliforniaTo effect true, lasting change, there needs to not only be education, but a change in attitude and the way we see the world. A widespread way to do that is to teach children from a young age about the importance of conservation and climate change. The California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken a big step in the right direction by implementing a new, green learning initiative in its public schools.

California began rolling out an innovative K-12 environmental education curriculum in the fall of 2010 in response to a 2005 state law. Mindy Fox, environment and education director for the California EPA told Earth911, “This is the first statewide environmental curriculum adopted in California. 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.”

Incorporating Environmental Education Efficiently

California, like most other states, has limited educational funds but the simple brilliance of this plan is that it is designed to integrate with current science, social science and history lessons. This mitigates the extra burden on teachers to teach additional material by changing existing materials to be viewed through “an environmental lens.” The EPA piloted the lessons in 19 school districts and gathered feedback from more than 3,000 students and teachers. Fox stressed the importance of teacher feedback in developing the curriculum and said the EPA made many changes and improvements due to instructor input.

The curriculum covers many timely issues like sustainability, conservation, recycling, water, energy, and climate change. From kindergarten through high school, the curriculum will demonstrate to students how people depend on natural systems, people can influence natural systems, and how decisions about natural systems and resources involve economic, legal, and political factors. Second graders have lessons about rocks and minerals, while high school seniors will examine environmental economics, and state and federal regulations and policies.

The California EPA is currently working with 16 school districts, plans to expand to 20 in 2011, and reach 100 percent by 2014. When it’s in full swing, the curriculum will impact how more than 6 million students in 1,000 districts think about the environment. That’s a lot of potential change. Think of what could happen if other states implemented similar programs. Maybe impending climate change would become a completely accepted fact – like knowing that the earth is round – recycling would be a priority nationwide, and conservation would be second nature to our next generation.

Image Credit: chynneschenck via flickr under Creative Commons license