By Nordica Holochuck, Terry Ippolito and Peter Schmidt
From NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program's Tidal Exchange, Spring 2011
This special issue of The Tidal Exchange is devoted entirely to estuary education and provides an exciting opportunity to find out about a few of the many ongoing environmental education programs focusing on the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary in our unique coastal region. Helping people learn about the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary is a vital first step to encourage environmental stewardship, one of the core goals of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program (HEP). Much of what impacts the estuary is a result of day to day behaviors of residents who live in the areas surrounding it. For many, exploring the estuary’s living and non-living components is a journey that is filled with hands-on experience as well as new critical thinking skill development. As educational programs move citizens, young and mature, in the field or in the classroom, from awareness to knowledge to understanding and then to action, they see themselves as part of this special ecosystem. And the next step, accepting the tasks involved in being its caretakers, its stewards, follows.
Estuary Education in Our Schools
If you are a teacher who takes your students outdoors it’s probably hard for you to understand why everyone doesn’t. You see how effectively outdoor education can cover the required curriculum, you appreciate how the field trip, with all it’s crazy planning, isn’t just another thing to fit in, but a valuable learning adventure that pays back your efforts in many ways, including how watching the excitement of your students reminds you why you are a teacher. If you work for one of the organizations or centers that distributes the curriculum materials or leads trips you are gratified by how busy you are in the spring and fall, revel in the positive feedback from teachers and students, and know from your friends and colleagues that we have never been busier. It is easy to believe that we have made our point and people understand how important and unique our shoreline and estuaries are.
The reality is that the majority of classes in schools, even within walking distance of the shoreline, don’t get out of the classroom to visit and explore, or even use any of the incredibly effective materials distributed by the local network of estuary and environmental education organizations. Teachers and administrators who aren’t going out may have to be convinced that field trips and classroom materials about our coasts are tied directly to the standards (often; science, social studies and literacy), and that time spent outdoors is not wasted time. With that in mind, please share this newsletter and the HEP website with your colleagues and try to let them know how good getting a little muddy can be.
Estuary Education Resources
In 2009, in partnership with New York Sea Grant, HEP updated its guide to estuary education, Exploring the Estuary, available free online at NY-NJ HEP's Education Page. Check it out! The guide includes sample lesson plans, estuary fact sheets and several agency-based estuarine science and education related websites. It also profiles more than 50 coastal and estuarine education organizations throughout the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary. The updated Exploring the Estuary features organization web sites and links reflecting the growing importance of the internet as a tool for teaching and learning about our coastal environments. For example, the guide includes a sample lesson from the Hudson River lesson plans developed by NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)’s Hudson River Estuary Program. It also includes a link to about two dozen Hudson Estuary lessons available for download free of charge on NYSDEC’s website. They use place based information from the Hudson and New York Harbor as context in exercises that build understandings and skills required by state standards and tests. There are so many worthy education projects throughout the estuary and new ones developing. The teachers guide can serve as a great starting point to begin to get to know the universe of what is available and begin to work more closely with fellow educators.
While visiting the HEP website you can also learn more about the program’s additional educational materials, including the estuary posters, “Scenes of Transition” & “Wildlife” posters/brochures. And take a moment to familiarize yourself with some of the education projects that this program has funded over the years through grants at NY-NJ HEP's Grants Page.
Another useful resource for estuary education is the Discover the Hudson River activity booklet, produced by Project WET in partnership with the Hudson River Estuary Program, HEP, and many other organizations. Copies can be requested through NYSG's Nordica Holochuck (via E-mail, email@example.com, or phone, 845.340.3983).
The following articles present just a few of the many great and diverse educational programs and initiatives ongoing in the Harbor-Estuary region (for other educational programs previously featured in The Tidal Exchange, please browse our past issues at NY-NJ HEP's Publications Page.
Merryl Kafka describes the New York State Marine Educators Association (NYSMEA), and the upcoming June 2011 NYSMEA Conference planned for Brooklyn.
Jeanne Dupont writes about a successful youth stewardship program in Rockaway. You’ll read Emlyn Koster’s story about the Liberty Science Center’s new Hudson River exhibit, and “visit” the Harbor School with Cate Hagarty and Sofie Malinowski.
Learn about the great programs at the Meadowlands Environment Center reading Angela Cristini’s article, and “set sail” with Wetlands Institute’s Phil Broder’s story about the SEAS program.
Even this small sampler of programs really highlights the diversity and variety of education programs out there, formal and informal programs for all ages and in all sorts of settings. Perhaps this makes even more relevant author Betsy Ukeritis’ article about the exciting new initiative to develop Harbor Literacy Points, an estuary-wide effort to develop some common understanding about what we all should learn and value about our wonderful, local natural resource.
So, jump right in. We’ll see you in the estuary!
Nordica Holochuck is the Hudson Estuary Specialist with New York Sea Grant, Cornell Cooperative Extension. Her office is located upriver in Kingston, New York. Nordica’s favorite HEP sponsored project was the “Birds Eye View” workshops she conducted 2008-2010. Workshop content included teaching geospatial skills using maps and photos of HEP restoration sites. Learn more in the HEP teachers guide online, or at NYSG's Hudson River Resource Site.
Terry Ippolito is the Environmental Education Coordinator for the U.S. EPA Region 2, which includes New York and New Jersey. Her responsibilities include managing EPA’s environmental education (EE) grants program in the region, serving on the agency workgroup that maintains its educational Web sites, and supporting educators (both formal and non-formal) through electronic networking, workshops and school visits. Her work at EPA follows sixteen years as a science teacher. Educators can find EE resources at EPA's Teacher Resources Page.
Peter Schmidt is currently Associate Director of the Queens College/ ConEd GLOBE NY Metro Program, training teachers to use the resources of the GLOBE Program to engage their students in authentic environmental research. He has enjoyed thirty years of working at nature centers, encouraging teachers and students to get into the woods, streams, and coastal waters in the metropolitan area and get a little dirty, because then, the learning comes naturally.