Now more than ever, we know that connections are crucial. Connections to friends, family, colleagues, and the outdoors. One silver lining we in the environmental education field have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic is a newfound appreciation for outdoor spaces and opportunities to access them. People around the world have gained a new sense of wonder and respect for the outdoors, and we believe this new sense of appreciation will continue even after the pandemic wanes.
We have long believed that outdoor experiences connect us to ourselves, to each other, and to the world around us, reminding us that we are part of a much bigger story. Never has this seemed more true than today. Building connections to the natural world increases people’s quality of life, health, and social wellbeing, and we believe this is the key to a sustainable future.
Today, we and millions of people all around the world will celebrate our planet while striving, unceasingly, to improve it. Today, we will connect with others to further the movement toward a sustainable future. And today, we will reflect on what gives us hope, what we gain from time outdoors, and what inspires us each and every day. Today, we ask, what does hope look like to you?
By Leigh Cocanougher
Although thousands of Earth Day in-person events, fairs, and advocacy gatherings have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people around the world are still planning major celebrations and calls to action that will take place on this year’s Earth Day. A monumental event in 2020, April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which began when American educators and students—more than 20 million of them—mobilized to be a driving force for protections for our planet.
For more than a year, conservationist and environmental education organizations and supporters have been connecting to build a never-before-seen movement for the 50th Earth Day. And though the world looks very different now than it did when the planning for Earth Day 2020 began, those plans haven’t slowed down. Looking for ways to get engaged this Wednesday? There are so many amazing events and activities to choose from! Here are just a few--
1. The Earth Day Network, with a goal of building the world’s largest environmental movement to “drive transformative change for people and planet,” has worked with more than 75,000 partners in more than 190 countries to focus year-round on “positive action for our planet,” and have in light of the pandemic created an online map and calendar where people can find “Digital Earth Day Events” near them.
2. Kentucky Waterway Alliance has created an entire day of free, family-friendly Earth Day activities for folks to celebrate “Earth Day at Home.” At 9am on April 22, their Backyard Bioblitz kicks off, followed by their “Certify Your Backyard” wildlife habitat session, a “Lunch and Launch” virtual paddle livestream, and a #TrashTag Backyard Edition. Learn more here!
3. Judy Braus, Executive Director of the North American Association for Environmental Education, says that “as we head into Earth Week and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we are at a pivotal point, just as we were 50 years ago. What’s different today is our unprecedented opportunity to communicate across borders and boundaries to get through a global crisis with shared thinking and innovation for the world we want going forward.” See her recent Earth Day message here.
4. The NAAEE is joining with the Walton Family Foundation's campaign to post and share positive news stories and ideas that will provide a welcome lift to our audiences. Organizations and individuals participating in the #EarthDay2020 campaign are encouraged to share photos, videos, and stories of how being outside recharges hope and connection to the outdoors and one another, using the #EarthDay2020 hashtag.
5. Project Learning Tree has compiled stories and resources to help educators and youth learn about sustainability issues, climate science, and actions they can take this EarthDay and every day. PLT has also worked with Earth Day Network, Project WET, and Project WILD to produce a guide that lists all our available education resources to advance climate education.
6. NASA, which began celebrating Earth Day 2020 on March 3 with a "50-Day Countdown" of daily social media posts and daily blogs on NASA's Earth Day website, shares a toolkit of activities for students and families. On April 22, they will air the Earth Day episode of "NASA Science Live," which will feature NASA experts discussing how NASA science and tech are used to understand and improve the environment. The show will air at 3pm EST on NASA TV, YouTube Premium, Facebook's Watch Party, and Periscope/Twitter.
7. “We never envisioned spending the 50th Earth Day this way. Primarily indoors,” says The Nature Conservancy. “Yet here we are, collectively playing our part to help solve a global problem like COVID-19. The environmental challenges of our present day are also formidable. Humanity can solve these challenges. Look no further than the movement sparked by that initial Earth Day in 1970. People came together and urged their leaders to advance cleaner air and water. We all have a part to play in the next 50 years.” Check out their Earth Day 2020 collection of stories of hope here.
8. Harvard's Division of Continuing Education is hosting a momentous global online celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 at 9:30am EST. Learn more and register here.
9. From April 22 to April 24, the Sierra Club is hosting a livestream featuring activists, performers, thought leaders, and artists coming together “for an empowering, inspiring, and communal” virtual event. Learn more and register here.
10. To mark the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, National Geographic is showcasing efforts being implemented around the globe to help protect the natural world. Check out their seven good-news wildlife stories from the last year, see how Texas hounds are helping chase down poachers in South Africa, and discover how Polynesian sailing vessels are being used to clean up microplastics.
Happy (almost) #Earth Day2020!
By Leigh Cocanougher
It is hard to believe it has been ten years since I joined KAEE as its Executive Director. It has truly been the best job ever, and I’ve been reminiscing on how fortunate I have been to have had this opportunity. I have met so many amazing and empowering leaders over the past ten years, both in Kentucky and across the globe. I have made some of my closest friends. I have never stopped learning and growing. Looking back on how much has changed--what an amazing journey it has been.
My first introduction to environmental education was a summer job I took working at Salmon Camp in Kodiak, Alaska, while I was pursuing my wildlife ecology degree. I still remember the faces on those kids when they caught their first salmon—the pure excitement and love of the outdoors. You can’t find that behind a screen. That is where I learned firsthand the value of engaging future generations in significant outdoor learning experiences where they are learning risk, discovery, imagination, and autonomy. I knew from this experience that I cared deeply about the mission of KAEE, but it wasn’t until I became immersed in this work that I came to understand how profoundly important it was to the future of our society. If there is one thing the current pandemic has taught me, it’s how quickly the world can change and how important it is to understand the interconnectedness of our manmade and natural systems if we want to be a more resilient society. That is why I work for KAEE and why I wholeheartedly support the work we are doing to ensure more Kentuckians have the opportunities to learn about these connections.
This job and the people I’ve met along the way have truly made me the person I am today. KAEE is more than a job or an organization; it is an amazing network of people I’m honored to know and work alongside.
Ashley holds a B.S. degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida and a Masters in Nonprofit Administration from North Park University School of Business and Nonprofit Administration. A demonstrated leader in the field of EE, she has served as the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) Affiliate Network Chair, is as a member of the NAAEE Advisory Council and is the Executive Director of the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA) in addition to being the Executive Director of KAEE. She is also a Certified Professional Environmental Educator, a certified member of the NAAEE Guidelines Trainers Bureau, and a board member of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
By Ashley Hoffman
Anyone needing a bit more time to get stuff done these days? We hear ya. To give everyone who’s interested in presenting at the 2020 Kentucky Association for Environmental Education Annual Conference ample time to submit a proposal, we’ve extended the deadline to May 17.
“Annual Conference is a blast,” said recent conference co-chair Joanna Ashford. “It’s a great time for educators, both formal and nonformal, to come together to brainstorm, attend sessions, and figure out what everybody across the state is doing both for students and adults.”
Held in a different location each year, KAEE’s Annual Conference allows us to “showcase all the great things happening around state,” said KAEE executive director Ashley Hoffman. “It’s an opportunity for our members to get out and see what’s going on in different areas, learn from each other, and bring back ideas to their centers.”
And this, Joanna said, helps “us increase the work we are doing for EE.”
This year's conference will be held Sept. 17-19 at Jenny Wiley State Park. With the theme "Community Engagement: Building Sustainable Communities through the Power of Environmental Education," conference strands include Education (EE Curriculum Programs, K-12 Education, Adult & Family Education, STEM, Green & Health Schools, etc.), Partnerships & Innovation (Community Partnerships, New & Innovative Projects, etc.), Civic Action (Community Service Projects, Service Learning, Green Schools Community Projects, etc.), and Capacity Building (Outreach, Fundraising, Communications, Messaging, Branding, Technology, etc.).
“Coming to conference is joyful,” Joanna said, “and you create friendships that will last for a lifetime.”
Visit our conference webpage for more details. We hope to see you this September!
KAEE is one of the country’s oldest associations supporting environmental education. We comprise people from all walks of life, coming together to support EE.