A Nascent Network Incorporating Civics into Environmental Education
Over the last few years, a growing group of environmental education organizations has come to the conclusion that the scale and complexity of the environmental challenges we face require more than individual stewardship. The problems we face require people from diverse backgrounds, with diverse experiences, from all walks of life to bring their values into public decision-making. This belief is the animating principle behind the Alliance for Student Action.
The Alliance began as a group of organizations that came together to investigate why some environmental education programs more successfully incorporate student-led action than others. This question spurred a capacity-building project that was funded by NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay B-WET program. As the group worked together, it became apparent that a core group of us were committed to continuing to work together to create opportunities for student-led action across the field.
In 2017 Earth Force brought together the original six organizations to learn about our approaches to civic engagement and to begin the process of incorporating civic action into their school-based programs. Four years later, a group of over 30 organizations has committed to incorporating civics and working together to deepen the practice of integrating civics into the field of environmental education.
The Alliance is a nascent network. We are learning how to work together, finding ways to share best practices, and developing the habits of a robust network. The network’s biggest challenge is transitioning from a project hosted by Earth Force to a self-directed network. The Alliance started by training everyone in the Earth Force model and has used that approach as a common starting point. Over time, network members’ capacity to combine civic and environmental education has expanded. Today, organizations are developing unique approaches that incorporate experiential civic education in ways that fit their unique circumstances. Some organizations are adapting project-based learning initiatives to incorporate authentic civic experiences, other organizations are designing statewide contests where young people develop proposals to improve water management, and some are using the approach to address environmental justice issues. Members of the network freely share what they learn with one another and take best practices from other network members.
The Alliance recognizes that one of the greatest needs of environmental education is ensuring we have policies and practices in place that focus attention on the voices of underrepresented groups in environmental policymaking. Members of the Alliance believe that environmental education can play an important role in addressing that challenge by giving young people civic experiences.
At the partner convenings, the Environmental Action Congress, organizations from Calgary, Canada to Miami, Florida share their varied experiences. At this year’s event, participants heard from a Chicago educator whose students are protecting the green space in their urban community and students from Northern Virginia who worked to amend indoor air quality regulations in their state. Having the opportunity to learn from these divergent approaches is helping create a community of practice that will make the melding of civic and environmental education accessible to new audiences across the country.
Members of the Alliance believe that we will be able to make a difference through our combined expertise. We hope that together we can create a generation of young people who are experienced civic actors who bring their knowledge, skill, and passion to the environmental challenges facing our communities today and tomorrow.