Maryland Makes a Historical Investment in Environmental Literacy


Students examine fish caught during a CBF education experience.

CBF Staff

"This is a momentous day not only for Maryland but for educators across the country who are watching what Maryland does, and hoping to increase outdoor learning in their states," said Don Baugh, Director of the No Child Left Inside Coalition (NCLI) and Vice President of Education for CBF. "The reason environmental education is gaining popularity is simple: it works. Children learn more, think more, and get healthier."

The day of which he is speaking is June 21, 2011, when Maryland's board of education voted to require that students get a "comprehensive, multi-disciplinary environmental education" before receiving their high school diploma.

Maryland has long been a national leader in providing high-quality, outdoor, environmental education experiences that are integrated in the K-12 public school curriculum. Today, Maryland leads the nation in addressing the need for students to become environmentally literate, and to develop a fundamental connection to nature that is so essential to the development of the whole child. The high school graduation requirement is one of a series of key recommendations outlined in the Maryland Plan for Children in Nature developed by a taskforce appointed by Governor Martin O'Malley in 2008 and charged with, among other things, identifying opportunities to expand and improve environmental and outdoor education in Maryland schools.

The new graduation requirement can be implemented by local school systems in a variety of ways, in some cases through one or more existing courses. Inspired by the chance to affect real and systemic change in public schools across the watershed, CBF and its partners are working closely with state and local education officials to support the development of tools and resources that will aid superintendents, principals, and teachers as they seek to incorporate these critical reforms into the curriculum in ways that support student achievement.

In Anne Arundel County, school Superintendent Dr. Kevin Maxwell is evaluating ways to ensure that each of the county's 78,000 public school students is able to participate in a meaningful outdoor field experience, tied to classroom learning, every year. Dr. Maxwell has engaged CBF as a key partner in achieving this goal, both through CBF's own award-winning student field programs and through professional development for county teachers in using schoolyards and nearby natural areas for outdoor learning.

New Environmental Education Program Launched in Virginia

CBF's groundbreaking work to advance environmental literacy is not limited to Maryland. Our education department is expanding its 20-year partnership with Virginia Beach City Public Schools to launch a systemic environmental literacy program that would directly reach thousands of Virginia Beach students at multiple grade levels and enable them to benefit from high-impact, on-the-water experiences. A key component of the Virginia Beach Systemic Environmental Literacy Program is teacher training, which was well received during this summer's professional development and curriculum writing courses lead by CBF. This innovative, multi-year program was made possible by a generous grant from CSX Transportation, and may also receive grant funding through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In Anne Arundel County and Virginia Beach, CBF, along with school administrators, teachers and other partners are creating models that have the potential to transform school systems throughout the watershed and that nation.

Maryland Environmental Literacy Standards Gain International Acclaim

On October 20, 2015, Maryland's environmental literacy standards received a from the World Future Council, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and UNICEF.

Maryland was recognized for becoming the first in the nation to require that students be environmentally literate prior to graduation. The award jury found that Maryland's standards led to positive school-wide impacts in knowledge, behavior and local action, as well as broad improvement in student learning across a range of subjects. Other states, such as Kentucky and Utah, have used Maryland's standards as a template for their education plans.

The Maryland State Board of Education established an Environmental Education By-Law in 1990, which initiated environmental education standards for the State's public school students. The State Board in 2011 approved a regulation requiring that all Maryland students complete a comprehensive multi-disciplinary program in environmental literacy prior to graduation. The first group of students covered in that regulation graduated in the spring of 2015. Read the press release. | View the infographic.

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