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Environmental Literacy Initiative in New York State

In response to No Child Left Inside legislation, (NCLI) the New York State Outdoor Education Association (NYSOEA) established an Environmental Literacy Committee (ELC) to begin working on a state-wide environmental literacy plan for New York State. States that have Environmental Literacy Plans will be eligible for federal funding when NCLI legislation is passed. NYSOEA invited Professors Mary Leou and Beth Klein to help start the committee and develop a plan of action. Currently chaired by Susan Hereth from Scenic Hudson and Tim Stanley from the Fresh Air Fund, the committee consists of over 30 members across the state and continues to grow.

Since the establishment of the ELC in 2008, six roundtables were held across the state to inform constituents about national and state-wide legislative initiatives related to environmental literacy. These meetings also provided a forum for a discussion of the nature of environmental literacy. They will provide a foundation for the emerging vision of a state-wide environmental literacy plan.

Over 100 stakeholders representing formal and non-formal educators, university faculty, school administrators, non-profit groups and government agencies engaged in this state-wide dialogue in an effort to define environmental literacy and suggest pathways through which one becomes environmentally literate. Participants also discussed ways in which environmental literacy could be assessed.

Results of the initial four roundtables were analyzed by Mary Leou from NYU, Beth Klein from SUNY Cortland and Christine Coughlin, an NYU doctoral student. Preliminary results were presented at the NYSOEA Annual Conference in Fishkill, NY in September 2009.

Environmental Literacy Initiative in New York State
by Mary Leou and Christine Coughlin,
New York University

Key findings included the following:

  • Environmental literacy entails knowledge of natural systems, as well as an understanding of the interconnectedness of humans and their environment. A relationship with the natural world, supported by outdoor experiences, was a central feature of most definitions of environmental literacy. Furthermore, participants felt that knowledge of and the ability to think critically about both local and global issues was important.
  • Pathways to environmental literacy include formal schooling as well as non-formal experiences through a wide range of organizations throughout the state (e.g. government agencies, cultural institutions and environmental organizations). Participants also noted the importance of incorporating environmental education into pre-service teacher education as an important step in achieving environmental literacy.
  • Environmental literacy assessment strategies included traditional testing and less traditional methods such as portfolios of student work and project-based assignments. Non-traditional assessments were cited as a way to foster sustainable actions and behaviors.

Complete reports of all roundtables can be found on the NYSOEA website:

The ELC has applied for an EPA grant in an effort to continue capacity building in New York State. Funds from this grant would also aid in the development of a state-wide environmental resource directory, as well as further the committee's work with the NYS Education Department to establish an environmental literacy plan, insuring environmental literacy for all New Yorkers.

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