Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Science of Expanding and Contracting

 Exciting news!

Youth Climate Institute Announces Nationwide Expansion, Accesswire

Today the Youth Climate Institute, founded by the Howard County Conservancy, announced their innovative certification program has expanded to include chapters in two states and metropolitan DC. This pioneering program for 10th and 11th graders provides foundational climate education and engages students in meaningful community action projects. (May 23rd, 2023)

The article (probably a press release) includes quotes from Howard County Conservancy Director Meg Boyd and Youth Climate Institute Director Jessica Kohout. From the latter, this statement made me think about yesterday’s blog post:

At a pivotal time for their college and career goals, YCI supports students and provides important recognition of their achievements, including certification, digital badges and compostable graduation cords to wear with their cap and gown. "Many people are familiar with recognitions that come with honor societies, scouting and varsity sports, but environmental achievements are largely unrecognized. The Youth Climate Institute is changing this," said Jessica Kohout, YCI Manager.

It’s a short piece and gives a glimpse into the program and its goals. Take a look. It’s definitely something Howard County can be proud of.

Not exciting news! 

The Howard County Board of Education has proposed cutting the Full-Time Environmental Educator position at the Howard County Conservancy. Ann Strozyk, the teacher currently serving in this role, has been with the school system for 23 years. Thirteen of them have been in residence at the Howard County Conservancy, running programs that serve 20,000 students per year. One of those programs? The Youth Climate Institute.

Why does this feel like two steps forward, three steps back?

If you would like to go to bat for these programs, take a look at this letter from Conservancy President Meg Boyd. You’ll notice that one of the deadlines was last night, but you still have time to reach out to the HCPSS Board of Education before this evening if you’d like to send an email. Ms. Boyd includes a helpful template if you are pressed for time.

Advocacy Letter from Howard County Conservancy , Meg Boyd

Right now the Board of Education is examining various scenarios of budget cuts to enable the school system to operate within current budget constraints. This particular cut to the Environmental Science programs must be part of a larger scenario of cuts. These scenarios are researched and prepared by Central Office Staff. I don’t want you to think that the Board of Education woke up one morning and decided they have it in for Ms. Strozyk and the Conservancy. It’s not like that.

In fact, all schools in Maryland are required to teach environmental science. It’s a part of the State curriculum. Many school systems maintain their own environmental education centers.We don’t, largely because of the collaborative relationship between the school system and the Conservancy. What happens when that disappears?

Recently I jokingly suggested a “scenario” in which HCPSS balanced its budget by reducing Central Office staff and doing away with high stakes standardized testing. I want to be absolutely clear that there is no such scenario in real life, nor am I advocating for one. I’m not ashamed to say that I think standardized testing is a waste of money and bad for kids. It doesn’t truly provide useful information for teachers, either.

But the point of the joke was merely that I wish we could keep cuts as far away from what benefits students as is humanly possible. I’m sure everyone involved probably feels the same way. These are difficult decisions.

As you know, I’m an arts education person and have often urged my readers to advocate for music programs in the school budget. But, over the years, I have become more and more aware of how places like the Howard County Conservancy, The Robinson Nature Center, and The Community Ecology Institute are working with children from a very young age to engage with the natural environment and advocate for a healthy future for all of us.

As hokey as it sounds, our future on this planet depends on that work, wherever it is happening.

This feels like a terrible time to be cutting the Environmental Educator and putting the educational programs at the Conservancy in jeopardy. If you agree, send the BOE an email before tonight.

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