Vol. 10, No. 3
January 17 - 23, 2002
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My Wish In 2002
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink
by Albert ‘Abby’ Ybarra

As a newcomer to Chesapeake Country, I met the Chesapeake Bay up close and quite personal when I tipped myself in from my kayak [Not Bill Burton: Vol. IX, No. 33, Aug. 16-22, 2001]. Completing my first year as a Marylander, I renewed my commitment to stay close to the Bay by joining a small group of Bay dwellers on New Year’s Day for a refreshing swim.

After my second baptism as a polar bear in North Beach, I judge myself ready to comment on Maryland issues.

My old home state of California has a population of 30 million, and I lived in a county with over 10 million. I find here in Maryland that issues are much the same: Clean air, clean water and other environmental concerns hover at the top of the list. Two well separated states, with equally daunting environmental problems.

With my children now part of the Maryland public school system, my wish in 2002 begins in our schools.

My experience in environmental education has led me across California and quite often across the country, talking about how students and schools can be the catalyst for changing the way we live and manage the land. I was part of a movement in California to bring students into the forefront of undoing the past 100 years of mismanagement of our communities. You may have heard the kids memorize the trilogy of environmental education: “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.” In California, we added a fourth R, Rethink. As in, it is time to rethink the way we live.

Often we would be in an outdoor classroom in the Hollywood Hills and scan the great horizons off to the San Fernando Valley or gaze up on the mountains’ Angeles National Forest. Caretakers of Los Angeles spent the past 100 years covering up any semblance of natural habitat as well as they could. We went so far as to encase a living river, the Los Angeles River, in concrete.

Why is this California story of interest to Maryland or to Bay folks? Recent reports from the state and federal authorities indicate we have undone Maryland’s natural balance. Of course we have the wonderful scenery on any Maryland highway, especially along the Bay shorelines. But the natural wetland areas are being affected everyday. Just as in a huge urban center like Los Angeles, most folks are so occupied with living and getting by in life they never have time to notice the land we live and work on.

My wish is for Maryland to institute a true environmental learning program for all students in grades K-12. Such a curriculum will assure us that our next generation of responsible residents will understand how the human footprint weighs down on the natural environment and keeps us off balance. Whether you wear moccasins or the fashion statement of oversized black boots, we all leave noticeable footprints on the land.

Environment-based education is a maturing discipline well suited to the goals of most states clamoring for higher test scores. It’s also a natural way to plan the curriculum around issues of interest to students and teachers.

Not only do total test scores improve but individual schools and students have documented greater interest in learning with engaged students. Reading scores have improved, sometimes in spectacular ways. Math scores have improved, and students have performed better in science and social studies.

Students develop the ability to make connections and to transfer their knowledge from familiar to unfamiliar contexts. Students working on real issues also sharpen their higher level thinking skills as they solve problems involving natural habitats and outdoor laboratories. Even classroom discipline problems have declined as frequently disruptive students experience this hands-on approach to learning.

I’m sure that Maryland has a number of statutes calling for environmental education, as do many other states including California. However, unless it is mandatory and properly funded for new curriculum development, we are headed for the Los Angelization of this wonderful natural state of beauty we now enjoy.

As I remind my own kids — and believe me, they catch me off guard, too — it is time to rethink the way we live.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly