Use environment to teach

From Josh Thomas, chair of the Sierra Club Central Piedmont executive committee and an executive with Topics Education, a Charlotte-based communications firm.

Right now I realize the vast majority of political focus rests on November's elections. Yet September matters, too, especially for our children. This month the U.S. House expects to vote on H.R. 3036, the No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act of 2008. If passed, the vote would support local and statewide efforts to expand and enhance educational opportunities for students and teachers, using the environment as a context for learning.

In my experience as a partner of a locally based education outreach provider and as chair of the Sierra Club's Central Piedmont Executive Committee, I've seen the power environment-based education has to engage students, challenging them to think critically and solve difficult problems. I'm a parent of three (ages 7, 5 and 4) who tests his theories on his own children before advocating them for others. I have seen environment-based education work first hand, many times and in myriad ways. But I'm not alone.

Research has shown persuasively that when environmental education is incorporated into the curriculum students perform better on standardized tests in reading, math, social studies and science. Other studies suggest environmental education improves critical thinking skills and motivates students to achieve higher levels of success in the classroom.

Take these results from a 1998 study by the State Education and Environment Roundtable: 99 percent of surveyed teachers and administrators reported that students in classes using the environment as their context for learning demonstrated increased knowledge and understanding of science content, concepts and principles and exhibited an improved ability to apply science to real-world situations. Nearly the same percentage (98 percent) saw greater enthusiasm and interest in learning science.

Better knowledge. Better application. Better engagement. What could be better?

Because of these reasons, the rapidly growing No Child Left Inside Coalition strongly supports passage of this NCLI Act, which aims to (among other things) provide professional development and training for teachers to incorporate environmental education activities into their instruction. The coalition supporting the Act's passage is made up of more than 600 member organizations, companies and agencies from all 50 states. Together this coalition represents some 40 million members who care about children and how we best prepare them to succeed in a quickly changing world. I believe firmly the NCLI Act is an important step in the right direction, and I urge you to join us in supporting it.

The No Child Left Inside Act should be a priority for all parents of school-aged children. But more than that, it should be a priority for everyone who cares about children. It should be a priority for everyone who cares about a workforce possessing critical thinking and problem solving skills appropriate for 21st Century realities. And it should be a priority for everyone who cares about both a healthy, thriving economic environment and a healthy natural environment from which we all can benefit.

I urge you to join me in strongly encouraging Charlotte-area U.S. Reps. Sue Myrick, Mel Watt, Robin Hayes and others to support this important piece of legislation.