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Let Earth Day Inspire Lifelong Learning About Our Environment

Tags: State Parks
April 14, 2021 12:00 AM

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​Next week will bring a week of awareness about the environment as we mark Earth Day on April 22.

It just so happens it also is National Environmental Education Week.

Earth Day has its roots in education and awareness about the environment, so these two are intertwined.

Becoming more knowledgeable about the environment helps us all think of solutions to issues such as clean water, climate change, and habitat loss.

If Earth Day inspires you to learn more, you’ll be happy to know that DCNR provides conservation education programs and opportunities for people of all ages across Pennsylvania to create awareness and improve understanding about the environment, conservation, and recreation.

DCNR offers opportunities for:

  • Students looking for an outdoor, educational experience
  • Teachers and other non-formal educators hoping to connect students to their natural environment
  • Families who want to learn more about recreation on our public lands

In state parks, DCNR has 118 environmental educators at 63 locations around the commonwealth.

There are two environmental education specialists that offer programming located in Forbes State Forest and Tiadaghton State Forest, as well as service foresters who frequently work with school groups and other groups upon request.

DCNR Adapting Environmental Education Programs During the Pandemic

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DCNR recently adjusted requirements to allow for small, outdoor in-person programs to occur with safety protocols in place; however, much of the department’s environmental education is still virtual.

Environmental educators adapted to providing their sessions virtually, saying there are some positive aspects to the format and lessons to be included for the future.

For instance, once state parks return to in-person programming, Delaware Canal State Park education staff hope to schedule several virtual programs each season, so that they can continue to reach audiences that are unable to attend in-person programs -- seniors, those who are homebound due to an injury or illness, parents with younger kids, and people who are just more comfortable learning at home instead of in a group.

Lessons for Students Looking for an Outdoor or Environmental Educational Experience

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Normally, educators can bring students to their local state park or forest for a field learning experience. Recently, these experiences and lessons have been occurring online.

In 2020, there were 725 programs offered by state park educators to 14,619 school students.

At Presque Isle State Park in Erie, environmental education staff developed a simple broadcast studio for virtual lessons; and will continue to facilitate live and interactive virtual lessons almost daily during the school week with students through May.

This week, DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn met virtually with fifth grade students at Harding Elementary in the Erie School District who were learning about sand including its make-up, movement, and control on Presque Isle.

At Tyler State Park, the educator worked with the Bucks County Free Library on a series of interactive gardening programs for elementary and pre-school students. Kits were provided in advance and the participants met online to do science activities. Sixteen programs were provided reaching 470 students.

Teachers or partners who are interested in lining up field trips or educators should contact their local state park or forest directly.

Programming for Families who Want to Learn More about Recreation on Public Lands

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At Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County, virtual programming is bringing the stars to new audiences.

The park has struggled with educating first-time visitors about the rural nature of the area, suggested arrival time (before dark), and what they should bring to best enjoy their visit. “Know Before You Go” programs for the first-time visitor now respond to that need.

The park added additional programs on a number of topics including meteor showers, the great conjunction of 2020, stargazing highlights of 2021, and even virtual telescope workshops with one-on-one follow-up sessions.

The biggest success was providing a program about night skies and the park to Girl Scouts in September 2020. Through the Girl Scouts Love State Parks event and promotion through their network, the park’s virtual program was joined by more than 250 scouts and their families from at least 31 states!

The DCNR Calendar of Events lets you search for educational opportunities by topic, park or forest, or region.

Training for Teachers Hoping to Connect Students to their Natural Environment

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Pennsylvania state parks offer a variety of professional development opportunities (PDF) for practicing and pre-service teachers, as well as non-formal environmental educators. DCNR provides cross-curricula training for teachers from all grades (Pre-K – college).

Previously, these teacher workshops were most often hosted at park sites or facilitated at a school. Trainings did continue virtually under pandemic mitigation circumstances.

At Pymatuning State Park in Crawford County in the fall of 2020, Project Wild and Project Learning Tree educator workshops were held for pre-service teachers in the Science Methods class at Thiel College in Greenville.

In January, staff also did a Growing Up WILD and Getting Little Feet WET early childhood educator workshop with formal and non-formal educators both local and across Pennsylvania, as well as from Ohio and Indiana. The training also involved educators at Point and Moraine state parks.

DCNR is the state sponsor of Project Learning Tree in Pennsylvania, which is an award-winning, environmental education program for educators working with students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade that helps young people learn how to think -- not what to think -- about complex environmental issues.

The DCNR Calendar of Events includes upcoming workshops for educators.

Try a DCNR Environmental Education Program this Spring

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Here are some upcoming programs open to all that are worth exploring:

Find many more opportunities on the DCNR Calendar of Events.

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