By Joshua Blanco
Five decades have passed since The Lorax first taught us the importance of environmental stewardship and what it means to care for the world around us. But it wasn’t just what the Lorax was saying that made his message so powerful. Rather, it was whom he was saying it to.
Fast forward to 2012, four years after the state established an environmental literacy plan embracing the same ethos Dr. Seuss embodied when he first penned the revolutionary eco-parable: that is, to change the world of tomorrow, we must first change the minds of today. To this end, researchers at NC State teamed up with members of the NC Environmental Literacy Plan working group to pinpoint factors that lead to higher environmental literacy. Not surprisingly, they found that most literate individuals don’t just learn about the environment—they also interact with it.
The reality is some schools are better equipped than others when it comes to offering their students a more hands-on approach. “I felt like in a traditional public school system, I was never outside with my students, and it broke my heart,” says Emily Davidson, twelfth-grade physics teacher at The Franklin School of Innovation (FSI), a public charter school located in Asheville.
This year, Davidson spearheads the Eco Warriors class, taking students outside to complete hands-on projects. “Sometimes we just go out and learn about whatever we see, and I think that’s so important for getting kids invested in the future of the natural world,” she says.
Last fall, Davidson led the kids on a biodiversity survey, searching for species of plants and animals to learn about habitats and resilience to climate change. Come spring, she plans to have a fully operational tree planting program in place for her students.
But nature-oriented electives aren’t all FSI has to offer. Because the school relies on an experiential learning model, project-based expeditions are a key component of the students’ curriculum, each one focused on some area of sustainability.
Eighth-grade social studies teacher Elizabeth Post guides her students through the six-week-long “Water is Life” expedition. During this time, she takes the kids to Hominy Creek—nestled in the land behind the school—to study the health of the creek and learn how they can contribute to the sustainability of the French Broad River Basin.
“This is one of the few opportunities where students experience biological studies with organizations who are doing this professionally in our community,” Post says. “Not only are they learning but they also get to use their data toward real-world solutions.”
Over the years, FSI has partnered with local organizations to help facilitate learning. GreenWorks, for example, helps students grow a live stake nursery. Students harvest tree branches, which are then rooted directly in the stream bank to help prevent erosion.
“The kids are excited to see those places in their lives and their families’ lives where they can make an impact,” Davidson says. “But they’re thinking beyond that, too, about how they can be part of our political system and our society and try to influence things for the better.”
Or as the Lorax says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
To learn more about The Franklin School of Innovation, visit FranklinSchoolofInnovation.org.