Roxborough's own Green Woods Charter School is already ahead of the curve when it comes to environmental engagement in education.

And thanks to new legislation introduced in Congress last week, the school could potentially receive more funding to further its already advanced efforts in getting kids out of the classroom and into the great outdoors, improving their scientific knowledge, self-esteem, and increasing their daily amount of exercise.

Thanks to sponsors Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD), the No Child Left Inside Act, a bi-partisan bill, was introduced into the Senate and the House last Thursday. There is an entire Coalition behind it - over 2,000 organizational members around the country. That represents more than 50 million individuals.

Charles Moorman, CEO of Norfolk Southern, a Coalition member, stated "An environmentally aware workforce is essential to the success of our company as well as the global economy. Environmental literacy is an important factor in preparing our young people to address the environmental challenges and opportunities for innovation that lie ahead."

The fourth grade class at Green Woods Charter didn't read about the Delaware River watershed in their textbooks. They examined its history, geography, and science by stream water testing. Then they followed the stream down to the Delaware Estuary, studied that ecosystem, worked on the beach with horseshoe crab experts, and then boarded a skimmer boat to traverse the salt marsh and study life there.  So, it's not surprising then that research shows that when environmental education is integrated into the curriculum, student achievement increases in core academic areas including science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM subjects.

The new economy that is likely emerging will require more workers in the areas of manufacturing, transportation, construction, and energy services. The global market for environmental products and services alone is expected to double by 2020. President Obama has been quoted many times agreeing that environmental literacy is central to improving children's science grades and will lead more people into green jobs with ever increasing earning potential.

Jean Wallace, principal of Green Woods Charter, explains, "Pennsylvania is unique in that it already has an entire set of academic standards focused on ecology. Based on those standards it's a matter of working with our colleges and universities so that when teachers are coming out with education degrees they have a solid content knowledge in environmental concepts so they are prepared to teach students about the environment."

It's about getting teachers excited to brace the outdoors and constantly follow or improve the Environmental Literacy Plan (ELP) of their state.

Last month, Rhode Island became one of the first states in the nation to adopt an ELP to help equip teachers with the skills needed to integrate critical environmental science learning into their curricula. Pennsylvania won't be far behind.  The state's Department of Education's Office of Environment and Ecology is already on the job. Spearheaded by Dr. Patti Vathis, people from various agencies including the Audubon Society, Waste Management, and the DEP are together designing this plan as we speak.

Wallace explains, "In order for states to apply for the money if this act is passed, you must prove you have a plan."

The specific dollar amount for funding that could flow through the 'No Child Left Inside Act' has not yet been determined but Wallace adds that any bit of cash flow counts.

"If we could tap into these funds to support our environmental program, we could further our curriculum goals and be even more of a model for our state," she said. "We at Green Woods would like to be in the position as a school to help other schools implement environmental literacy into their curriculum."


For NewsWorks