Pat Otto brought two outstanding Washington state educators to Washington DC last month as part of the Project Learning Tree fly-in to talk about the importance of getting kids outdoors. All three graciously shared their experiences with us – sounds like a great trip!
Jane Ulrich, Pat Otto and Roberta McFarland in front of the Capitol Building during their trip to Washington DC in July.
Washington State Project Learning Tree Coordinator, PEI Program Provider
As the Project Learning Tree (PLT) Coordinator for Washington State, I recently (July 18, 2012) participated in the second annual National PLT fly-in in Washington DC. Joining me were Jane Ulrich, 4th grade teacher at Sunny Hills Elementary in the Issaquah School District, and Roberta McFarland, director of Camp Waskowitz in the Highline School District. The purpose of our visit to the Nation’s capital was to inform our congressional delegation about the importance of environmental and sustainability education and share our compelling stories about the impact environmental education has on students’ lives. Joined by 2 PLT staffers, Emily Marx and Bret Richardson, we met with 7 Washington staffers for both our Senators and 4 Members of Congress (MOC) throughout the day. Everyone we talked with was interested, supportive, and asked great questions. In fact these staffers were such amazing people that I am compelled to share their names.
Senator Murray – Anna Sperling
Senator Cantwell – James Mueller and Janet George
Congressman Dave Reichert – Natalie Kamphaus
Congressman Adam Smith – Paul Hoover
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers – Melanie A. Steele
Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler – Jessica Wixson
Using PLT lessons as an example, I started our conversations with an overview of how environmental and sustainability education provides opportunities for students to not only meet state standards, but exceed those standards along with how we need national support to make sure every student has environmental education as part of their educations. We shared the great things that are already happening in our state including Environment and Sustainability Standards and Literacy Plan. Further, we asked Senators and Representatives to visit schools in their districts this coming year to experience firsthand what Environmental and Sustainability Education looks like.
Next Jane and Roberta shared their stories of how environment and sustainability education has changed student’s lives and how they teach. Jane and Roberta also shared their stories with the Department of Agriculture at an afternoon meeting. Here are their stories:
Jane Ulirch, Roberta McFarland and Pat Otto meet with Paul Hoover, Legislative Assistant to Congressman Adam Smith.
4th grade teacher, Sunny Hills Elementary School, Issaquah School District
In the 1990’s I had the privilege of being trained in PLT through the Issaquah School District. It was during that time that PLT encouraged me, inspired me, and supported me to develop two outdoor classrooms on my school campus.
With their support, and the support of my principal, parents, and community members (including the Boy Scouts), a “forest classroom” and a native garden classroom came to fruition on the Sunny Hills Elementary School campus. Teachers could now take their students outdoors for hands-on learning.
Through the years these sites have continued to be used by teachers and students, but the level of usage has declined, I believe, due to cutbacks in teacher training. With the high turnover of staff at my school, many of the current teachers have not been trained in environmental education.
Therefore, it was with great enthusiasm, and concern for the decline in funding for teacher training, that I gratefully accepted the opportunity to attend the first and second national PLT fly-In in Washington, DC.
I shared my concerns, through photographs, to interested staffers in the offices of Senator Patty Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, and Representative Dave Reichert. I asked them to visit my school. I hope seeing firsthand how school campuses can provide opportunities for authentic outdoor experiences will lead to efforts in Congress to provide the needed funding for natural resource education for all teachers, K-12, in our beautiful state.
One of my parents shared her thoughts about her daughter’s experiences in our outdoor classrooms at the end of this school year—“Sophie has learned a new respect and appreciation for nature. She stops to point out the sunsets and flowers along the way, after grabbing a camera to record them. What a blessing to be inspired by the beautiful world we live in.”
Thank you, PLT, for giving me the opportunity to share with decision-makers in Washington, DC how children feel about the natural world when they are given the chance, in school, to interact with it. Life-changing.
Project Learning Tree staff Bret Richardson with Jane Ulrich, Roberta McFarland and Pat Otto in front of the Rayburn House Office Building.
Principal, Waskowitz Outdoor School, Highline School District
Waskowitz Outdoor School has had the privilege of participating in the PLT Green Schools! program since 2009. Through the materials and tools we received as part of the Green Schools program, we have been able to conduct energy audits and waste audits with our high school student Green Team. In addition to the authentic learning experiences these investigations provided, Green Team members were given numerous leadership opportunities. The Waskowitz Green Team was invited to the launch of The Sustainability and Environmental Education Literacy Plan for Washington State. The Waskowitz Green Team was the highlighted student speakers at this event. The pride they shared in being part of a school that honors student voice and opportunity to make a difference for our planet was awe inspiring. Waskowitz Environmental Leadership School students are often first in their family to consider college, and frequently first in their family to graduate high school. These students felt like celebrities for environmental education.
As part of the PLT Green Schools program Waskowitz was asked to present at the National Science Teachers Convention in Seattle. I brought all three years of Green Team members. Some had graduated, yet still wanted to share their story. The PowerPoint they created was a collaborative effort, aiding in the development of leadership and public speaking skills. All students spoke about the difference being involved in a meaningful program afforded them with the ability to see beyond today to a brighter future.
I was truly privileged to share my stories of empowerment and pride for the students involved in PLT Green Schools with our MOC and The Department of Agriculture. PLT Green Schools is a program that truly helps many students find a path to success and an inner voice that tells them, they may be one, but they can be the difference.