Environmental education took a giant leap forward in Maryland on Thursday. Previously, schools were only required to expose students once to environmental education sometime between pre-kindergarten and twelfth grade. That changed when the Maryland State Board of Education unanimously approved a measure mandating all Maryland schools to integrate environmental education into the curriculum. Environmental education must now be woven into the fabric of all courses in all grades. While the original recommendation to the Board would have made Maryland the first state in country to make environmental education a graduation requirement, the change in the depth, breadth, and frequency is a significant improvement.
The new ruling does not add a separate environmental course, however it does include specific topics that schools must weave throughout their existing curriculum. Such topics as, “Humans and Natural Resources” and “Environment and Society” encourage a multi-disciplinary approach aligned with the current Maryland Environmental Literacy Curriculum. While students will not have to pass a test on environmental topics in order to graduate, the individual school systems will be required to demonstrate to the State Board of Education every five years that environmental curriculum has been and will continue to be part of the mainstream curriculum
The requirement is supported by the State Superintendent of Schools, Nancy Grasmick, who believes that as opposed to a one-and-done environmental course, including environmental education in a variety of courses lends support for the importance of the subject matter. In addition, the Board did include a requirement for students to complete a “local action” project to improve the natural environment in their community. The combination of systemic learning and a chance to apply the concepts in a real-life setting will deepen the students understanding of the impact of their actions, and those of the community around them ,on the environment.
The proposal was the result of two years of work by the Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature. The task force, started in August of 2008, as a complement to the proposed Federal “No Child Left Inside” legislation, was co-chaired by Ms. Grasmick and John Griffin, formerly the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. According to Governor Martin O’Malley who appointed the task force, their mission was “to ensure that every child in every community experiences nature directly and develops a personal connection with our environment.”
Maryland has been progressive in its approach to environmental education. As far back as 1989, the Maryland education code was amended to require a child to experience a “comprehensive, multi-disciplinary program of environmental education” at least once in from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The State also developed a variety of resources for environmental education including GREENet (a statewide interactive online network for environmental educators and has added an Environmental Endorsement that teachers can add to their teaching certificate. With the passage of the environmental education requirement it looks like the task force met their goals and Maryland continues to push environmental education to the forefront of primary and secondary education.