Guest column by Ashley Hoffman
In a world facing pressing environmental challenges, the role of education in understanding these issues cannot be overstated. A recent landscape analysis conducted by the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA) has unveiled valuable insights that shed light on the state of environmental education in K-12 schools in the southeastern United States.
The landscape analysis draws upon survey data from more than 600 PreK-12 teachers and administrators across eight southeast states. Our primary goal is to provide a holistic view of environmental education within this region. As the Executive Director of the Kentucky Association for Environmental Educators (KAEE) and the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA), I am excited to share these study results in an effort to unite educators, administrators, legislators, funders, government and agency professionals, business and industry stakeholders, as well as individuals across the southeast in our shared commitment to advancing environmental literacy.
The landscape analysis explores the extent to which environmental education is integrated into school curricula, the needs and priorities of educators, barriers to implementation and much more. These insights reveal not only the current state of environmental education in K-12 schools but also the paths we must tread to bring outdoor learning and environmental education into every classroom. The data collected in this landscape analysis should be a call to action for educators, administrators and policymakers to prioritize and invest in environmental education and outdoor learning.
One of the key findings of the analysis highlights the frequency of outdoor learning activities. Unfortunately, only 10% of educators reported taking their students outside on a daily basis, while a majority did so once or twice a month to a few times a year. This infrequency confirms that outdoor learning is a non-normative practice in most schools.
On a slightly more positive note, 32% of teachers are already incorporating outdoor learning into their instruction, with 61% expressing interest in doing so but needing support. This data suggests that there is a strong appetite for outdoor education among educators. However, one of the primary obstacles they face is logistics, which includes issues related to scheduling, time, distance and clean-up.
Another significant challenge identified was the limited access to field trips for students due to transportation costs, time constraints and site fees. And just 57% of schools have been able to make environmental education field trips accessible to all students, indicating a need for greater diversity and inclusion in these educational experiences. Furthermore, 21% of educators indicated that they had received no professional development in outdoor or environmental education, emphasizing the need for training and support for teachers.
The analysis also delves into climate science education, revealing that 66% of educators are teaching about climate science, but 50% spend less than 10 hours per year on this crucial topic, and most do not feel confident in their ability to teach it effectively.
To address these challenges and enhance environmental education in the classroom, the study identified several key resources that would be most helpful. These include teaching materials and lesson supplies, field trips, guest educators, standards-based lessons, professional development and best practices for teaching outdoors.
One of the most exciting aspects of this landscape analysis is the creation of a user-friendly dashboard, which allows educators and stakeholders to access detailed findings from the analysis. This dashboard can be customized to filter the location of schools, the type of schools, grade levels and the level of confidence reported in providing environmental education. It's a valuable tool for anyone interested in understanding and improving the state of environmental education in their area.
To access the detailed findings from the analysis, including the dashboard, I encourage everyone to visit www.southeastee.org/landscape-schools. By gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in environmental education, we can work together to create a brighter, more environmentally conscious future for our children and our planet.