The Nature Conservancy Steps Up to Promote Greener Thinking in City Schools with “Leaf: A New Anthology for Urban Environmental Education”

| October 29, 2013

High school students in cities across the U.S. have not always enjoyed a great deal of exposure to learning activities about the natural world that surrounds them, largely because teachers themselves have had limited access to resources focused on urban environmental education. Fortunately, the current growing demand for green jobs in fields like environmental engineering and environmental science is encouraging scientists, teachers and policy professionals to develop new tools for helping students in city schools to learn about the science of conservation and the vital role that nature plays, even in concrete jungles.

A LEAF intern looking closely at the horseshoe crab. LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future) is a nationally-recognized program that works to empower the next generation of conservation leaders and equip them with the skills and knowledge to address our world’s most pressing environmental challenges. Partnered with environmental high schools, the program combines classroom lessons with real-world conservation work experience for urban youth. © TNC

LEAF: A New Anthology for Urban Environmental Education” is a new comprehensive resource for high school teachers focused on natural world that includes lesson plans about areas such as the health impacts of air pollution, urban water management, and how climate changing is affecting cities. Compiled by the non-profit group The Nature Conservancy, the anthology includes a wealth of free downloadable lessons for educators to help “green” their curricula and spark student interest in environmental topics.

LEAF intern Keira Adams helps conduct a wetland survey on Santa Cruz Island, California. Adams is a student at Environmental Charter High School in south Los Angeles, one of four new partner schools for the LEAF program. Photo credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC

With contributions from high school teachers in New York, Los Angeles, Denver and other cities, the anthology includes a wide assortment of lessons focused on building high school students’ environmental literacy and getting them interested in conservation topics through learning that takes place outside of the classroom. In fact, many of the projects presented include opportunities for schools and students to help solicit further involvement and interest in environmental conservation within their own urban neighborhoods. In one lesson contributed by teacher Melissa Dowd from The New York Harbor School, for instance, students have the chance to learn about urban ecology by creating a field guide of their local urban waterway. After introducing students to how field work is done through activities such as water quality testing and local species collection, students are called upon to present their field guide to the local community, such as by making it available and easily accessible online, or by presenting it at a school or local community board meeting.

LEAF interns Gerard Reyes and Bless Amedoaszi measure trees in a city park in Springfield, Massachusetts. They calculate the carbon mass that these trees can absorb from the air and contrast the data they collect from a sample taken in a forest in the Berkshires. Photo credit: ©2012 Richard Howard

For students, learning about conservation and the real world applications of environmental science often serves to get them thinking about career options they might otherwise not have considered and study tracks geared to conserving nature. The project has also been well-received by school administrators, who have noted its importance to teachers in the community and its positive approach to helping develop high school students’ environmental values. Asked about the anthology, Steven King, Founder and School Leader of the Barack Obama Green Charter High School in Plainfield, NJ noted “I’m very impressed with the detail with lesson development.  It’s a great tool schools and something that will serve as a great resource for our teachers.”

To supplement the learning that takes place in school, the Nature Conservancy runs a program called LEAF (Leaders in Environmental Action) which offers paid internships on its preserves that give students the chance to learn about conservation careers by working alongside practicing scientists. According to the conservancy, approximately one third of students who graduate from the LEAF program go on to pursue environmental science careers, a full six times higher than the national average.

Visit The Nature Conservancy’s website to learn more about “Leaf: A New Anthology for Urban Environmental Education” and to download the many lesson plans available in the anthology.
All images courtesy of The Nature Conservancy