Why Environmental Education?

The following is from NMWC’s September newsletter.

Wildlife rehabilitation and conservation are two major foci of New Mexico Wildlife Center. Both are important for the future of wildlife and habitats. Equally important is the role of education. If we cultivate a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world in our children, they will grow up with a desire to protect the natural environment that serves as habitat for our wildlife.

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NMWC’s science education program is accomplishing this. Our River Classroom program takes local 4th-12th grade students out into important local habitats, including rivers, canyons, and mountains. For the 2015-2016 school year, we are working with students in Española Public Schools, McCurdy Charter School, and Tierra Amarilla Elementary. We have 150 students.

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This style of place-based education directly addresses problems with student motivation, engagement, and even discipline. Research shows that students in environment-based education programs have higher test scores (Lieberman et al. 2000). Additionally, students in environment-based education programs have fewer disciplinary interactions, a lower tardiness rate, and fewer unexcused absences (Lieberman and Hoody 1998).

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Additional research has show that children today are not spending enough time outdoors. Research from the University of British Columbia shows that risky outdoor play is not only good for children’s health but also encourages creativity, social skills and resilience. Being in nature also improves mental health, and exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. These articles and others are all the more reason to get our kids outside and learning.

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Our students are not taking field trips- they are doing field work. We collect vital data that includes measuring water quality parameters and surveying benthic macroinvertebrates. These data help us evaluate the health of the riparian ecosystems. Our water quality data is submitted to the New Mexico Environment Department’s Surface Water Quality Bureau for monitoring purposes, and our students take data collection seriously.

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In our programs, students learn to collect, analyze, and present data with scientific tools like microscopes, computers, and high tech sensors. Last year we learned about energy and built working water wheels that we tested on the Rio Chama. This year one of our classrooms is building kayaks to learn about buoyancy. We focus on robust science (biology, physics, ecology, and chemistry) and teach students how to ask and answer questions and how to think critically. We focus on enjoying the beautiful habitats that we have in northern New Mexico, but our students also gain a foundation of skills and knowledge that prepares them for the jobs in science and technology that will guide our societies to environmental health and balance. We expect great things from our students.  A healthy, balanced, thriving ecosystem for all species depends upon them.

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This year we’re receiving support from several generous sponsors: Wells Fargo, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, and the LANL Foundation. Thank you for supporting our education programs!

Christy

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