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The Nature of Learning Program in New Jersey
In 1994 the New Jersey Field Office became one of the first to sign on to the new Earth Stewards program, now known as The Nature of Learning. Initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, this was a new concept for environmental education focused on communities and schools. Service field stations were to partner with individual schools in a three-year program to integrate environmental studies into the curriculum. The theory was that at the end of the three years, environmental issues would be so intrinsic to the school’s vision that there would be sufficient interest to continue the program independently.
In the 17 years since, the New Jersey Field Office has partnered with Washington Elementary School in Trenton, Smithville Elementary School in Galloway Township, Stafford Township Intermediate School in Manahawkin, Pinelands Regional High School in Tuckerton, Monroe Township Intermediate School in Williamstown, Vineland High School, the Hudson County “College Prep” School, Frank R. Conwell Middle School in Jersey City, the Galloway Middle School in Galloway Township, and the Quarles Early Childhood Center in Englewood. The partnership in Galloway includes the Reeds Road Elementary School as well as Roland Rogers Elementary, and the Englewood program is seeking to include the whole district. Whatever the level, the challenge remains the same: to engage teachers not just of science but of all the disciplines in sensitizing students to the need for protecting the natural environment. If science classes are a student’s only contact with environmental concerns, the field of experience is relatively narrow, and the effect is correspondingly limited. Expand the scope of the environmental emphasis by increasing the areas of exposure, and the impact is much more apt to influence the learner permanently.
All disciplines offer pathways to ecological concerns. For example, Walden, or Life in the Woods, Thoreau’s account of living in harmony with nature, is standard fare in high school literature classes. Landscapes have been a staple of art education since the Romantics. History classes can study changing attitudes towards the natural world. Statistics and mathematics supply crucial tools for measuring and characterizing the environment.
Field trips are essential to The Nature of Learning because an important component of the program is outdoor classrooms that engage students in hands-on encounter with the natural world. But no Nature of Learning field trip is exclusively scientific. For instance, at Whitesbog, lessons in the history of the local cranberry and blueberry industry figures in the presentations to young learners. History featured even more prominently at the Hamilton-Trenton Marsh, home to aboriginal encampments and after 1815 to the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Nature of Learning is all about holistic education, which is perhaps our best hope for raising a new generation of environmentally aware adults. In New Jersey, not only the Field Office but also E.B. Forsythe and Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuges are available to partner with interested schools. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation offers grants to fund Nature of Learning programs for eighteen to twenty-four months. To learn more, just give us a call.
Learn more about the Galloway Township Nature of Learning Program.
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