A Year in Environmental Education

With a new school year in full swing, the Ecology Center is excited to be back in Michigan’s schools. As a preview of what’s ahead in this year’s jam-packed environmental education calendar, we reflect on some of the accomplishments of the 2017-2018 school year and the recent growth of our education program. Keep an eye out for us in your community!

Last year:

-Ecology Center classroom and community programs reached over 18,500 people—17,000 students, 900 teachers, and 600 community members.

-We delivered nearly 400 classroom and after school programs for youth and families.

-Our curriculum included more than 30 different programs, plus a set of K-12 teacher lesson planning workshops. That’s twice as many unique offerings as we had four years ago!

-We established and expanded partnerships in new areas of the state, from Dearborn to Mackinac Island.

-We continued to empower educators to implement, improve, and sustain environmental education in their schools and communities by training teachers and volunteers, both in their schools and at professional conferences. This year we conducted 28 school staff recycling trainings and developed a new Master Recycler Educator pilot program in coordination with the Michigan Recycling Coalition.

-We offered educational resources in Arabic, English, and Spanish.

-You might have seen us making learning fun for all at public events and festivals in Ann Arbor, such as the Mayor’s Green Fair, Earth Day Festival, A2 Summerfest and our monthly recycling “craft and chat” events.

-Every single program was offered free of charge to participants.

Teachers often tell us that Ecology Center workshops are unlike anything else offered in their schools. We apply a health context that makes basic knowledge real and relevant for youth. Our approach to environmental education isn’t an isolated add-on to existing curriculum but an element that reinforces what students are already learning in science and social studies. Kids master the fundamentals of anatomy, for instance, as they learn about practical steps they can take toward protecting their health and the environment’s. October’s “Truly Horrible Halloween” lessons ask students to apply their learning about toxins and human body systems to party planning. Students giggle as they plot the most toxic party possible.

Real-life connections illuminate relevance, and they make lessons memorable. So does hands-on engagement as students apply experiential education to making their schools better places. They plant rain gardens to help drainage and flooding on school grounds, conduct energy audits and waste audits to identify places for change in their community, and they test classroom items for presence of common toxins using Healthy Stuff methods.

We’ve worked with teachers across Michigan in lesson plan development, bringing Ecology Center expertise to serve community needs. Our recycling education programs are individually tailored to empower students and local communities. We don’t just teach the rules for what belongs in one waste bin or another; we also explain why those rules exist, change, and differ from place to place. The variation can be frustrating if it seems arbitrary, but behind-the-scenes reasons are often exciting. Technologies advance, and local systems operate in individualized ways. Take Mackinac Island, for example. The unique community has unique waste processing, with a robust compost system and horse-drawn carriage collection for recyclables that are then sorted by hand. When Mackinac Island Public School invited us to teach, we collaborated before conducting an educational assembly for students (pre-K to 12) and their teachers. We covered the details of their local system and how to use it, as well as the larger context of recycling’s global value.

This past year, we were especially excited about a major project in Dearborn Public Schools. We’ve helped start the Dearborn Education and Action on Recycling (DEAR) program with an invitation from the City of Dearborn and a $100,000 grant from the Aetna Foundation. DEAR has worked to make Dearborn’s schools change agents to reduce contamination in Dearborn’s recycling system. The program is designed to invite people from diverse ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds to join the recycling movement, and it includes components for youth and for educators.

The 2018-2019 school year promises to be another exciting period of teaching, learning, and collaborating.  On the immediate horizon, we especially look forward next step of the Master Recycler Educator pilot and the DEAR program. We will offer a two-day adult learning unit for representatives from all Dearborn schools on October 11 and 12.

We also invite the public to our monthly Saturday morning recycling craft programs, including the upcoming events “Reducing Waste with Reusable Sandwich Bags” on September 29 and “Recycled Lantern Light for a Spooky Night” on October 20.


Published on September 26, 2018