'No child left inside' promotes outdoor education

By Kathrine Warren
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

No child was to be left behind under the previous administration’s education policy.

Now that Democrats control the presidency and both chambers of Congress, focus is shifting back to environmentalism, and the push is on to see that no child is left inside, either.

As a part of Earth Day celebrations nationwide on April 22, the No Child Left Inside Act was introduced simultaneously in the House and Senate. Its all-but-inevitable passage would mark the first time in more than 25 years that Congress has passed environmental education legislation.

Chief sponsors Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) gleaned 10 co-sponsors in the Senate and 38 co-sponsors in the House, including 2nd Congressional District Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder.

The bill calls for $100 million per year for the next five years to come from the Department of Education to fund environmental education supporting professional development for teachers and outdoor learning activities through schools and environmental education centers.

In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act, which defined the core skills all students in the United States must master at each grade level, led educators to focus exclusively on creating curricula to meet reading, math and science standards.

The No Child Left Inside Act was designed to encourage teachers to incorporate environmental education into their curricula in order to reconnect children with the world of nature.

In a statement this week, Polis explained why he supports the legislation.

“Since coming to Congress, the health of our children and of our environment have been two of my highest priorities,” he said. “This bill harmoniously unites both efforts to everyone’s benefit: Our children benefit by being more physically fit, and our nation benefits from new generations of Americans with greater appreciation of our planet and the great outdoors.”

The No Child Left Inside Act was previously introduced in Congress last fall, but made it only through the House before the 2008 session ended. It therefore had to be reintroduced to the new Congress.

States that want to gain access to part of the $100 million that would become available if the legislation passes will be required to develop environmental literacy plans.

According to Don Baugh, director of the No Child Left Inside Coalition and vice president for education at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 25 states already are working to develop state environmental literacy plans in anticipation of the bill’s passage.

The No Child Left Inside Coalition, created in 2006 with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as its fiscal agent, represents more than 1,500 separate organizations working to encourage children to experience nature and learn about the environment.

Baugh hopes the significant bipartisan support the bill already has received in Congress presages its passage, and that states can soon begin to develop their plans for environmental education.

Maryland, home of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and of Sarbanes, the congressman who introduced the bill last week, is one of the few states that has developed a complete draft plan in anticipation of the legislation.

Officials in Colorado plan to start drafting the state Environmental Literacy Plan this summer.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien will begin work on Colorado’s literacy plan as she tours the state holding community forums designed to bring together all parties interested in discussing environmental education. The forums also will explore the state’s current successes and challenges in getting children involved in the natural world.

O’Brien and her staff also are working to create a Colorado Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights — a list of outdoor activities all Colorado children have the right to experience before
age 18.

Baugh commended Colorado for the work it has already begun to do in anticipation of the No Child Left
Inside Act.

“I think Colorado is uniquely poised to make a major statement,” he said. “You’ve got some of the greatest natural resources, and it appears that the stars are starting to line up with good leadership.”

The Colorado Alliance for Environmental Educators has been working this past year to solicit support from the state’s congressional delegates and is also working with O’Brien’s office to develop the literacy plan.

Ali Gouhstone Sweeny, the director of the alliance, says it’s important for Colorado to develop an Environmental Literacy Plan with or without federal prodding.

“It’s important that environmental education is approached with a strategy that would become a comprehensive framework for educators,” she said.

Kathrine@coloradostatesman.com