Revolution to Survival: Our Need for Nature

Born out of the passion of the environmental revolution of the 70s, environmental education has grown from seeing nature as separate from the human condition, to being a political driving force, a requirement for well-rounded human development, and today’s source of relief from a global crisis. The Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators (PAEE) was founded in 1977 with a mission to unite, support, and empower the community of environmental educators throughout Pennsylvania.  Over the years we have watched the face of environmental education change. 

SPPO0017
“SPPO0017” by pcopros is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

With all that has happened, the pandemic, the major weather events, economic upheaval, and environmental and social unrest a few things have been spotlighted.  There is still good in humanity, we have found ways to help each other, ways to rise up, resist and reconnect with the things that improve and sustain us.  Among the silver lining of 2020 we realized once again the benefits of being outdoors.  How many of you have used the outdoors as an escape this past year?  The Bureau of State Parks saw an unprecedented 22% average increase in use of the 121 state parks with some parks experiencing an increase of 100% or more.  That’s over 45.3 million people hiking, birdwatching, running, boating, geocaching, biking, and learning as a way to improve their mental and physical wellbeing. 

#conservationlands15 Social Media Takeover, May 15, Top 15 Trails to Blaze on BLM’s National Conservation Lands
“#conservationlands15 Social Media Takeover, May 15, Top 15 Trails to Blaze on BLM’s National Conservation Lands” by mypubliclands is licensed under CC BY 2.0

PAEE, like many other education organizations, began to find ways to bring nature to the public virtually at first but we understand that outdoor education cannot be contained by walls or screens; that individuals need to be outside, feel the breeze, smell the forest air, and walk the trails.  We need to find a way back to our roots while looking forward to the challenges of our new normal.  The change has begun as the next stages of growth in environmental education begin to immerge.  Although PAEE will meet virtually for our annual conference this year we are confident in the greater role that nature will play in the healing of all of us. 

Social Distancing Poster
“Social Distancing Poster” by YellowstoneNPS is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Already in 2021 PAEE is working state-wide to bring attention to the revision of the PA Science and Technology Standards that will guide the knowledge our children are presented for the next decade and perhaps beyond.  We’re working hard to raise the voices of educators, parents, and those who are concerned about the amount of time dedicated to environment, ecology, and agriculture in Pennsylvania classrooms to ensure future generations are prepared to deal with global issues with an environmentally literate mind.  We are continuing to support non-formal professionals through the Non-formal Environmental Education Certification Program as we apply to become an affiliated program with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). 

As we begin our new round of strategic planning looking forward to the next 5 years all that has happened since March 2020 will propel us into a new phase of environmental education with diversity, equity, inclusion, health, and a re-ignited need for local and global action.

Author: Jessica Kester

With 20+ years of educational experience Jessica began her career as a field instructor in coastal marine sciences at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station in Wallops Island, VA. She moved westward to teach students from urban / suburban Chicago at the Lorado-Taft Field Campus of Northern Illinois University. Then for 10+ years she ran The Outdoor Classroom in Pittsburgh’s South Hills focusing on the variety of ecosystems and wondrous treasures in Southwestern PA. After the Classroom closed in 2016, Jessica moved on to start the new outdoor and environmental education department of Allegheny Land Trust as the Vice President of Education. She joined the ROCIS team as the Air Quality Education Coordinator in May 2020. Jessica holds degrees in Biology/Marine Science and Secondary Education/Biology from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and is a Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators board member and State Coordinator for Project WET (Water Education Today).

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