On May 4, 2012 the Catoctin Forest Alliance (CFA) held the 4th annual Meeting on the Mountain (MOM IV) at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD. With over 200 people in attendance, the keynote speaker, Mr. Richard Louv, and a cadre of experts from state governmental, environmental and educational organizations, spoke about “Connecting Our Children to Nature”.
John Fieseler, Executive Director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County, served as the emcee for the program and did a fine job with all of the introductions and with keeping the jam packed program on schedule so everyone would get their allotted time to speak.
Robert Brennan, Vice President Advancement for Mount St. Mary’s University, welcomed everyone to The Mount. He commented on the enthusiasm with which Michael West and Elizabeth Prongas had brought to the first meetings some 8-9 months ago that began the MOM IV planning. He said he caught that enthusiasm right away. He pointed out that this year the Mount is graduating their 204th class and that when the Mount began, Thomas Jefferson was president. The Mount has been a good steward of Mary’s Mountain for many years. He pointed out that MSM is the birth place of Catholic education in the US and also served as a hospital for both northern and southern soldiers during the Civil War. The university has one of the three largest solar arrays east of the Mississippi. The smallest array was recently turned on and powers the east side of the campus saving about $500 per day in electrical fees. The power from the large array goes to the University of Maryland in College Park. Mr. Brennan said that MSM no longer fears the Turtle, they power the Turtle!
Michael West, President of the Catoctin Forest Alliance, also welcomed the group and thanked all of the sponsors and companies that had purchased ads in the MOM IV program as well as the people who planned and helped to carry out the MOM IV. He then introduced Merrill Oliver, Deputy Director Governor’s Grants Office, who presented a citation from the Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley in recognition of the MOM IV and CFA’s efforts to promote environmental education for our youth.
Mel Poole, Superintendent Catoctin Mountain Park, welcomed everyone to the Catoctin Mountains, sometimes called Maryland’s Front Range and to Frederick County, the home of the most units of the national park system in the nation. He read a quote from Wendell Berry, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are. Where you stand at any moment has meaning above and below you but also inside you for the inspiration, reflection and spirituality that this planet provides for human beings.” With that in mind, Mel provided a trip down memory lane to describe the beginnings of environmental education, also known as nature interpretation or conservation education.
In the early years environmental education was largely taught by families in rural areas. As the industrial revolution bought out many of the family farms, people began to depend on naturalists, interpreters and parks for environmental education. In 1854 Central Park became the first public park and was created to give the American industrial revolution workers a place to commune with nature on their one day off per week. Yosemite Park, once a mining operation, became the first state park in the nation in 1864. Soon after, in 1872 Yellowstone became the first national park “a pleasuring ground for all the American people”. Harold C. Byrant developed the first interpretive program at Yellowstone and used four basic guidelines:
Simple, understandable interpretation with hands on experience (e.g. field trips)
Lead visitors to study the real thing
Provide highly trained personnel
Develop a research program to supply dependable facts
Tilden Freeman, the father of interpretation said that interpretation needs to be based on three principles:
It needs to be revelation based
The aim is not instruction but inspiration for more learning
Interpretation for children is not a dumbed down adult version. It just needs to be presented with a different approach.
Frederick County had an Outdoor School at Camp Greentop in Catoctin Mountain Park from 1957 until 1996. Children from the Frederick County Public Schools would spend a week at a time in the park. However, financial restraints, legal and liability issues brought the program to a halt. More and more, children are giving up outdoor time to play digital games and correspond on social media. Superintendent Poole pointed out that if we wish to reach the children, we will have to do it in the medium of their choice. We need to find a way to get our children to the heart of the world.
Nita Settina spoke about the important role that America’s State Parks play in connecting children and families to nature. Her remarks included a discussion of the value of both unstructured play and structured programming supported by State Parks, from camping to environmental education. She also highlighted the iconic role of the Park Ranger as nature mentor and spoke about new state park programs, including Park Quest, First Time Campers and the Conservation Jobs Corps, which reaches over 350 at-risk youth annually. Nita told the group that connecting children to nature is one of the greatest humanitarian gifts we can give to the next generation and one of the most important investments that we can make to the conservation of the earth.
For more information about Park Quest, go to: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/parkquest/index.asp
For more information about the Conservation Jobs Corps, go to:
Maryland Park Service: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/
Superintendent Maryland Park Service
Coreen Weilminster, President Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) told the group that the mission of MAEOE is to encourage, educate, support and inspire Maryland educators to build a citizenry that understands and is responsibly engaged in advancing sustainability to address human needs and to conserve Earth’s natural resources. She said the organization exists to help teachers to use their school yards for environmental and STEM education. They want to use the schools to get children outdoors.
MAEOE was founded in 1985 and serves thousands of teachers with training programs, workshops and a very large conference each February that draws about 600 teachers. They also have a new Environmental Education certification program that brings authenticity to the non-formal teachers. It is very comprehensive and takes about a year to complete.
MAEOE ‘s keystone program is the Green School Program. There are 458 green schools in Maryland, about 20% of all the schools in Maryland.
In summary, Coreen said, “We help to build the capacity of teachers to use their school yard to teach environmental education.” For information about MAEOE and all the resources for teachers that they offer, go to http://www.maeoe.org/ .
Britt Slattery, MD Department of Natural Resources Director of Conservation Education, and Coordinator MD Partnership for Children in Nature, reminded the group that it takes a whole village to get children into the outdoors and that is the goal of the Partnership for Children in Nature. The partnership was formed in 2008 by the Governor’s Executive order to develop a plan to connect communities, youth and families to nature in schools, in their communities and on public lands. The partnership is co-chaired by the DNR and the Maryland State Dept. of Education and is supported by 16 organizations, state, national, non-profit and local government. Maryland has a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights that you can download at http://www.governor.maryland.gov/documents/OutdoorBillOfRights.pdf . The Conservation Jobs Corps for youth was developed as part of the Partnership for Children in Nature. In 2011, with help from the Partnership, Maryland was the first state to pass an Environmental Literacy graduation requirement. The Partnership is working actively to support schools and environmental education providers as each of the school systems develops their Environmental Literacy programs, including increasing meaningful outdoor experiences for students in grades preK – 12.
MAEOE has four main goals for this year:
1. Promote outdoor play and learning.
2. Support Environmental Literacy in schools and community.
3. Promote equitable access to green spaces such as parks and trails for all communities.
4. Promote health and food (agriculture) connections.
In summary, Britt encouraged the group to “take your kids outside”. She offered a website and her contact information as a resource.
Gary Hedges, Science Specialist for Maryland State Department of Education spoke about the Maryland Environmental Literacy Standards (E-Lit). He pointed out that all 24 Maryland school systems are developing their Pre-K through 12 environmental literacy programs and each one is unique. E-Lit is has many similarities to the Next Generation Science Standards and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) however, E-Lit goes a step further by requiring an action component—the “boots on the ground” implementation of what was learned (e.g. tree planting, stream monitoring, teaching others about the environment). He pointed out that the key to success with E-Lit is to work as teams of teachers and administrators, to collaborate and determine how best to address the MD regulations, involve non-formal environmental education providers and invite businesses and higher education institutions to participate.
Julie Dieguez, Coordinator of the Maryland No Child Left Inside (MDNCLI) Coalition, provided a lively overview of the work of both the National & Maryland NCLI Coalitions. Formed in 2007, the National NCLI Coalition comprises 2000+ diverse groups representing over 50 million Americans in support of federal legislation (NCLI Act) and efforts to increase support for environmental education (EE) in schools. In large part due to these efforts, on April 16, 2012, at the first-ever White House EE Summit, a Federal Interagency EE Task Force was announced! The MDNCLI Coalition (250+ organizations and over 635,000 Marylanders) actively supports the Governor’s MD Children in Nature Partnership to ensure that all MD youth have access to recreational & educational outdoor experiences and graduate environmentally literate. As a result of these efforts, in 2011 Maryland passed the first environmental literacy high school graduation requirement in the U.S.! The MDNCLI Coalition provides public outreach on the progress of state and national initiatives and opportunities for people of all ages, backgrounds & professions to help connect families, youth and teachers to nature during the school day, in communities and on public lands.
John Smucker, CFA Conservation/Education Chairman, discussed the many tree plantings and educational opportunities he has conducted over the past year. Debbie Mills, National Park Service, spoke of the First Bloom program and Park Stewards programs that were conducted in conjunction with CFA. For more details about the First Bloom program, go to http://www.nps.gov/cato/parknews/national-park-foundation-first-bloom-project-breaks-ground-at-catoctin-mountain-park.htm
The Park Stewards program brought high school students into the Catoctin Mountain Park for a day of outdoor education. Those students, in turn went back to their school and devised a curriculum to teach middle school students about the outdoors. That program was completed this spring at Camp Greentop. For more details about the program, go to http://www.herald-mail.com/education/hm-camp-greentop-outdoor-education-great-handson-experience-20120513,0,6503477.story.
The First Bloom program brought 4th graders from Robert Moton Elementary School to Catoctin Mountain Park, where they designed and planted a wild flower garden in front of the Visitor’s Center. Their project was entered into a nationwide contest and the school won first prize — $10,000. With that money, the children were taken on a trip to DC to visit more National Parks. Amanda Frushour, a teacher from Robert Moton Elementary School and one of her 4th grade students, C. Graham, further described the First Bloom project. The student enraptured the audience with his description of the project and his enthusiasm for what he and his fellow students had learned and accomplished.
A panel of experts from the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) spoke with the group about Efforts and Opportunities to Connect Children to Nature. The group has kindly made their contact information available as a resource for dynamic training programs, workshops, conferences, awards programs, networking opportunities, publications, and related materials.
Maryland Association for Environmental & Outdoor Education (MAEOE): www.maeoe.org
Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature: www.dnr.maryland.gov/cin
Director of Conservation Education, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Coordinator Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature
Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE): http://marylandpublicschools.org/msde/programs/environment
Division of Instruction Science Specialist (& Environmental Literacy Lead), MSDE
Maryland No Child Left Inside Coalition: www.mdncli.org
(National Coalition: www.nclicoalition.org )
Coordinator, Maryland No Child Left Inside Coalition
MAEOE Maryland Green Schools: www.maeoe.org/greenschools
MAEOE Maryland Green Schools Coordinator
443-733-1220 ext 121
Mary Hardcastle, Environmental Education Manager, Parks and People Foundation, Dr. Maria Brown, MD and Michael Dorsey, Parks and People program coordinator, spoke about the “Docs in the Park” program that offers activities in parks with some of Baltimore’s best medical professionals. They offer sports demonstrations, live cooking, organized activities, free play, guided hikes and nature exploration. All activities that are part of a doctor’s prescription for children and parents to get healthy together. The activities are free and open to the public. For more information, go to http://www.parksandpeople.org/events/calendar/details/606/2012-05-12 /
Ben Thwaits, “In a New Light” Project Leader, talked about the program that originally took 26 teenage boys at Northwest Passage in Spooner, Wisconsin and embarked on “In a New Light,” a six month photographic journey of discovery, hope, and healing on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a unit of the National Park System. When the project began, most of the boys had rarely held cameras. With photographic equipment, instruction, and countless hours immersed in the wild beauty of the Riverway, the boys created the stunning photographs showcased on their website and in a touring exhibit seen by over 20,000. To see some of their beautiful and inspiring photography go to, http://www.inanewlight.org/ . At the MOM IV, we were fortunate to have 12 of the photographs displayed along with the poems and prose that each boy wrote to describe his photographic experience.