Providing opportunities for students of color to explore
the outdoors and science careers
Text and photos by Sprinavasa Brown
recall the high school science teacher who doubted my capacity to succeed in advanced biology, the pre-med advisers who pointed my friend Dr. Kellianne Richardson and me away from their program and discouraged us from considering a career in medicine – biased advice given under the guise of truth and tough love.
I remember only three classes with professors of color in my four years at college, only one of whom was a woman. We needed to see her, to hold faith that as women of color, we were good enough, we were smart enough to be there. We were simply enough, and we had so much to contribute to medicine, eager to learn, to improve and to struggle alongside our mostly White peers at our private liberal arts college.
These are the experiences that led Kellianne and me to see the need for more spaces set aside for future Black scientists, for multi-hued Brown future environmentalists.
The story of Camp ELSO (Experience Life Science Outdoors) started with our vision. We want Black and Brown children to access more and better experiences than we did, experiences that help them see their potential in science, that prepare them for the potentially steep learning curve that comes with declaring a science major. We want Black and Brown kids to feel comfortable in a lab room, navigating a science library, and advocating for themselves with faculty and advisers. We hope to inspire their academic pursuits by laying the foundation with curiosity and critical thinking.
Creating a sense of belonging
Camp ELSO’s Wayfinders program is our main program for youths in kindergarten through sixth grade. What began as a programmatic response to our community needs assessment – filling the visible gap in accessible, affordable, experiential science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs for young Black and Brown children – quickly grew into a refuge space for youth of greater Portland. Wayfinders is all about creating a safe uplifting and affirming space for youth to engage in learning around four key areas: life science, ecology, community and cultural history. While our week-long sessions include field trip sites similar to many mainstream environmental education programs, our approach is sharply focused on grounding the youth experience in environmental justice while elevating the visibility and leadership opportunities for folks of color.
We are creating a special place for Black and Brown youth to have transformative experiences, to create memories that we hope will stick with them until adulthood. Creating such a space comes with difficulties, the type of challenges that force our leadership to make tough decisions that we believe will yield the best outcomes for youth underrepresented in STEM fields. For instance, how to mitigate the undertones of colonization, nationalism, and co-opting of traditional knowledge – harmful practices ingrained in mainstream environmental education.
To do so, we invest in training young adults of color to lead as camp guides. We provide resources to support them in developing the skills necessary to engage youth of diverse ethnicities, backgrounds, socioeconomic status and family structure. Our guides practice taking topics and developing discussion questions and lesson plans that are relevant and engaging. We know that the more our staff represents the communities we serve, the closer we get to ensuring that Camp ELSO programming is responsive to the needs of children of color, authentic to their lived experience, and is a reflection of the values of our organization and community.
In 2019 nearly 100 children of color from greater Portland will participate in Camp ELSO’s Wayfinders program over spring and summer break, spending over 40 hours in a week-long day camp engaging in environmental STEM learning and enjoying the outdoors. We reach more children and families through our community outreach events like “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day: Women of Color Panel” and “Endangered Species Day: Introduction to Youth Activism.”
The most critical aspects of our Wayfinders program happens even before we welcome a single child through our doors. With the intent of purifying the air and spirit, we smudge with cedar and sage to prepare the space. When a child shows up, they are greeted by name. We set the tone for the day with yoga and affirmations to the sounds of Stevie Wonder and Yemi Alade as we strive to expose our kids to global music from diverse cultures.
We have taken the time to ask parents thoughtful questions in the application process to help us prepare to welcome their child to our community. We have painstakingly selected what we feel is a balanced, blended group of eager young minds from diverse ethnic backgrounds: Black, Latinx, the children of immigrants, multi and biracial children of various ethnicities, fuego and magic. Our children come from neighborhoods across Portland and its many suburbs. They come from foster care, single-parent households, affluent homes, homes where they are adopted into loving and beautifully blended families, strong and proud Black families, and intergenerational households with active grandmas and aunties. Consistent with every child and every household is an interest and curiosity around STEM, a love of nature and the outdoors.
The children arrive full of potential and the vitality of youth. Some are shy, and nerves are visible each morning. By the end of the week we’ve built trust and rapport with each of them, we’ve sat in countless circles teaching them our values based in Afrocentric principles, values selected by previous camp guides representing the youth voice that actively shapes the camp’s culture.
On our way to more distant Metro sites like Blue Lake and Oxbow regional parks and Quamash Prairie, we play DJ in the van. Each kid who wants to has an opportunity to share their favorite song with the group, and if you know the words, you’d better belt it out. We share food and pass around snacks while some children rest and others catch up with old friends. Many more are deep in conversation forging new friendships.
When we arrive, we remind the kids of what is expected of them. We have no doubts that each and every child will respect the land and respect our leaders. The boundaries are clear, and our expectations for them don’t change when problems arise. We hold them to the highest standards, regardless of their life situation. We respect, listen, and embrace who they are.
We are often greeted by Alice Froehlich, a Metro naturalist. Our kids know Alice, and the mutual trust, respect and accountability we have shared over the last three years has been the foundation to create field trips that cater to the needs of our blended group – and oh, it is a beautiful group.
At Oxbow, we are also greeted by teen leaders from the Oregon Zoo’s ZAP (Zoo Animal Presenters) program. These teens of color join us each year for what always ends up being a highlight of the week: playing in the frigid waters of the Sandy River, our brown skin baking under the hot summer sun, music in the background and so much laughter. Like family, we enjoy one another’s company.
Then we break into smaller groups and head into the ancient forest. Almost immediately the calm of the forest envelopes our youth. The serenity that draws us to nature turns our group of active bodies into quieted beings content to listen, observe, respond and reflect. It doesn’t take much for them to find their rhythm and adjust to nature’s pace. Similarly, when we kayak the Tualatin River or canoe the Columbia Slough, they are keen to show their knowledge of local plants and taking notice as the occasional bird comes into view. We learn as much from them as we do from our guides.
These are the moments that allow Camp ELSO’s participants to feel welcome, not just to fit in but to belong. To feel deeply connected to the earth, to nature and to community.
Encouragement for my community
As a Black environmental educator I’m always navigating two frames of view. One is grounded in my Americanness, the other is grounded in my Blackness, the lineage of my people from where I pull my strength and affirm my birthright. I wear my identities with pride, however difficult it can be to navigate this world as a part of two communities, two identities. One part of me is constantly under attack from the other that is rife with nationalism, anti-Brownness, and opposition toward the people upon whose lives and ancestry this country was built.
I am a descendant of African people and the motherland. I’m deeply connected to the earth as a descendant of strong, free, resilient and resourceful Black people. The land is a part of me, part of who I am. My ancestors toiled, and they survived, they lived off, they cultivated, and they loved the land.
As a black woman, my relationship with the land and its bounty is a part of my heritage. It’s in my backyard garden, where I grow greens from my great-grandmother’s seeds passed down to me from my mother, who taught me how to save, store and harvest them. Greens from the motherland I was taught to cook by my Sierra Leonean, Rwandese and Jamaican family – aunties and uncles I’ve known as my kin since I was a child. It’s in the birds that roam my backyard, short bursts and squawks as my children chase them. The land is in the final jar my mother canned last summer when the harvest was good, and she had more tomatoes than we could eat after sharing with her church, neighbors and family.
Our connection to the land was lost through colonization, through the blanket of whiteness that a culture and set of values instilled upon us all as westerners living on stolen Indigenous land and working in systems influenced by one dominant culture. Our sacred connection with outdoor spaces was lost as laws set aside the “great outdoors” as if it were for White men only. These laws pushed us from our heritage and erased the stories of our forefathers, forgetting that the Buffalo Soldiers were some of the first park rangers, that the movement for justice was first fought by Black and Brown folks.
We grew our own food before our land was stripped away. We lived in harmony with the natural world before our communities were destroyed, displaced or forcibly relocated. We were healthy and thriving when we ate the food of our ancestors, before it was co-opted and appropriated. We must remember and reclaim this relationship for ourselves and for our children.
We are trying to do this with Camp ELSO, starting with our next generation. Children have the capacity to bring so much to environmental professions that desperately need Black and Brown representation. These professions need the ideas, innovations and solutions that can only come from the lived experiences of people of color. Children of color can solve problems that require Indigenous knowledge, cultural knowledge and knowledge of the African Diaspora. We want to give kids learning experiences that are relevant in today’s context, as more people become aware of racial equity and as the mainstream environmental movement starts to recognize historical oppression of people of color.
We need more spaces for Black and Brown children to see STEM professionals who are relatable through shared experiences, ethnicity, culture and history. We need spaces that allow Black children to experience the outdoors in a majority setting with limited influence of Whiteness – not White people but Whiteness – the dominant culture and norms that influence almost every aspect of our lives.
Camp ELSO is working to be that space. We aren’t there yet. We are on our own learning journey, and it comes with constant challenges and a need to continuously question, heal, build and fortify our own space.
Sprinavasa Brown is the co-founder and executive director of Camp ELSO. She also serves on Metro’s Public Engagement Review Committee and the Parks and Nature Equity Advisory Committee.
Advice for White Environmentalists and Nature Educators
by Sprinavasa Brown
I often hear White educators ask “What should I do?” expressing an earnest desire to move beyond talking about equity and inclusion to wanting action steps toward meaningful change.
I will offer you my advice as a fellow educator. It is both a command and a powerful tool for individual and organizational change for those willing to shift their mindset to understand it, invest the time to practice it and hold fast to witness its potential.
The work of this moment is all about environmental justice centered in social justice, led by the communities most impacted by the outcomes of our collective action. It’s time to leverage your platform as a White person to make space for the voice of a person of color. It’s time to connect your resources and wealth to leaders from underrepresented communities so they can make decisions that place their community’s needs first.
If you have participated in any diversity trainings, you are likely familiar with the common process of establishing group agreements. Early on, set the foundation for how you engage colleagues, a circumspect reminder that meaningful interpersonal and intrapersonal discourse has protocols in order to be effective. I appreciate these agreements and the principles they represent because they remind us that this work is not easy. If you are doing it right, you will and should be uncomfortable, challenged and ready to work toward a transformational process that ends in visible change.
I want you to recall one such agreement: step up, step back, step aside.
That last part is where I want to focus. It’s a radical call to action: Step aside! There are leaders of color full of potential and solutions who no doubt hold crucial advice and wisdom that organizations are missing. Think about the ways you can step back and step aside to share power. Step back from a decision, step down from a position or simply step aside. If you currently work for or serve on the board of an organization whose primary stakeholders are from communities of color, then this advice is especially for you.
Stepping aside draws to attention arguably the most important and effective way White people can advance racial equity, especially when working in institutions that serve marginalized communities. To leverage your privilege for marginalized communities means removing yourself from your position and making space for Black and Brown leaders to leave the margins and be brought into the fold of power.
You may find yourself with the opportunity to retire or take another job. Before you depart, commit to making strides to position your organization to hire a person of color to fill the vacancy. Be outspoken, agitate and question the status quo. This requires advocating for equitable hiring policies, addressing bias in the interview process and diversifying the pool with applicants with transferable skills. Recruit applicants from a pipeline supported and led by culturally specific organizations with ties to the communities you want to attract, and perhaps invite those community members to serve on interview panels with direct access to hiring managers.
As an organizational leader responsible for decisions related to hiring, partnerships and board recruitment, I have made uncomfortable, hard choices in the name of racial equity, but these choices yield fruitful outcomes for leaders willing to stay the course. I’ve found myself at crossroads where the best course forward wasn’t always clear. This I have come to accept is part of my equity journey. Be encouraged: Effective change can be made through staying engaged in your personal equity journey. Across our region we have much work ahead at the institutional level, and even more courage is required for hard work at the interpersonal level.
In stepping aside you create an opportunity for a member of a marginalized community who may be your colleague, fellow board member or staff member to access power that you have held.
White people alone will not provide all of the solutions to fix institutional systems of oppression and to shift organizational culture from exclusion to inclusion. These solutions must come from those whose voices have not been heard. Your participation is integral to evolving systems and organizations and carrying out change, but your leadership as a White person in the change process is not.
The best investment we can make for marginalized communities is to actively create and hold space for leaders of color at every level from executives to interns. Invest time and energy into continuous self-reflection and selfevaluation. This is not the path for everyone, but I hope you can see that there are a variety of actions that can shift the paradigm of the environmental movement. If you find yourself unsure of what action steps best align with where you or your organization are at on your equity journey, then reach out to organizations led by people of color, consultants, and leaders and hire them for their leadership and expertise. By placing yourself in the passenger seat, with a person of color as the driver, you can identify areas to leverage your privilege to benefit marginalized communities.
Finally, share an act of gratitude. Be cognizant of opportunities to step back and step aside and actively pursue ways to listen, understand and practice empathy with your colleagues, community members, neighbors and friends.
Camp ELSO is an example of the outcomes of this advice. Our achievements are most notable because it is within the context of an organization led 100 percent by people of color from our Board of Directors to our seasonal staff. This in the context of a city and state with a history of racial oppression and in a field that is historically exclusively White.
We began as a community-supported project and are growing into a thriving community-based organization successfully providing a vital service for Black and Brown youths across the Portland metro area. The support we have received has crossed cultures, bridged the racial divide and united partners around our vision. It is built from the financial investments of allies – public agencies, foundations, corporations and individuals. I see this as an act of solidarity with our work and our mission, and more importantly, an act of solidarity and support for our unwavering commitment to racial equity.
Urban Schools and Environment Education
by Alison Swain
IslandWood Graduate Student/ Field Instructor
his past fall, an IslandWood instructor gave me the
advice that a teacher can only take her students from the
place they are coming from. Through weeks of teaching environmental education to students from public and private elementary schools across the Seattle area and Washington peninsula, I thought little about this statement. Instead, I focused on the prescribed curriculum. Perhaps I did more team building with one group and in-depth water quality with another; but ultimately, the curriculum and content was on par for each group. This past week, teaching seven students from an under-resurced, urban elementary school, environmental education as I had practiced it stopped dead in its tracks. Or so I thought.
After receiving the Friday morning briefing establishing the elementary school’s lack of organization, structure for students, and underserved background, I acquiesced that I may not hit “Nature’s ABC’s” the first day. I did not anticipate one student planting himself outside the Gear Room, head buried in his knees, refusing to move or even voice his concerns for a half an hour. I did not anticipate the ingrained reaction of five of my seven students to shut down (no movement, no verbal communication, no eye contact) when they experienced emotional, physical, or personal discomfort. I did not anticipate the silence of a solo hike to be a poignant teachable moment or the game of camouflage to be a revolutionary way to experience nature. I certainly did not anticipate the impact of a single salamander.
At the end of a week characterized by the challenge of melding my teaching to situations previously unanticipated, I was left with several questions for reflection. The first: “Is the game of camouflage environmental education?” In terms of meeting my students where they were coming from, the answer is most certainly, yes. Seeing all seven of my students run without hesitation into the woods, which were previously full of bugs, discomfort, dirt, and fear, to hide became my most effective means of encouraging my students to get into the nature. When I tried to relate the game to animal adaptations, a student immediately chimed in, “Like what?” As we discussed and they discovered and named several adaptations of local animals, I knew I had them engaged and thinking about the natural world.
At one point in the week, I thought to myself, “It is a good thing that community is part of our mission statement because I do not know how much my students are learning about the environment.” Reconsidering the definition of environment and the successful movements that are changing the ways Americans and industries use resources, I realized that creating community is a necessary component of environmental education. The interconnectedness of the community of our team and the natural world became clear when we stumbled upon a salamander while hiking along the side of the Marsh. Some of my students stared, surprised and awed by the creature. Others pushed and reached to pick it up. The reachers and pushers calmed as we quietly observed the salamander’s behaviors and discussed its habitat. Finally, we talked about whether we should pick up the salamander. My students came to a group consensus that we should not. It was my turn to stand by, awed by the deep sense of care and blooming connection to the natural world as my students watched, unmoving, the salamander slowly lope off the trail to find cover. The last boy to pass the spot where the salamander had hidden delicately poured water from his water bottle near the spot, so that, as he told me, the salamander could find water to keep his skin moist. Our team’s salamander moment is just one example of the profound power of a community committed to caring for each other and the environment.
As the week continued, I encouraged each of my students to look outside of herself and take into account the greater whole by teaching my students through natural consequences about the choices they have and how those choices affect the entire group. At different times that greater whole was the salamander at the Marsh, ecosystems we studied, and our team. Empowering my students with the idea that they had choices and asking them to use these choices throughout the week taught them an extremely important element of environmental education: each person possesses the power to choose his path and that path effects the natural world and human communities.
For the final activity of our week together, I revisited a blindfold walk as a lead-in to a short solo hike. At the end of the solo hike, students were to write a letter to themselves recounting what they had felt, learned, and loved about their week at IslandWood. As each student walked down the path silently stopping at each solo hike card to consider the statement or question, I knew that these students had connected to the environment around them. Simply by being comfortable walking alone on the trail, they had absorbed many of the lessons of the week. At the end of the solo hike, as students went off-trail to find their own space to write their letter, I witnessed yet another success. These students had attained a level of comfort with their natural surroundings. At the beginning of the week, my students were afraid, uncomfortable and seemingly out of their element. Today, they had learned that moving silently was often rewarded by an awe-inspiring moment of witnessing an animal in its environment. On the final day, this moment entailed observations of a pileated woodpecker at work on a snag and for over half my group, a mention of the salamander as something they will always remember.
As for myself, I was finally forced to consider the advice others had given me. I learned to meet my students where they were coming from and find a balance, an understanding, where we all could engage in our environment for the week.
Allison Swain is a field instructor and graduate student living and teaching environmental education at IslandWood’s campus on Bainbridge Island, Washington.
By being on the land and walking in the shoes of their host families, students begin to understand more deeply how and why Oregonians manage the land the way they do.
By Maureen Hosty
With contributions from Gary Delaney, Deb Schreiber, John Williams, Jed Smith and Shana Withee
regon is a state of great socioeconomic and geographic diversity. While this diversity brings strength, it also challenges Oregonians to meet the needs of all communities. This divide is mostly deeply felt around natural resource management issues. Oregon cities are now so culturally isolated from the country that clashes between urban and rural Oregon occur frequently when it comes to grazing, logging, wilderness and wildlife. That was the world Portland urban youth walked into when they took a stand in defense of wolves in 2005 at a public Fish and Wildlife hearing. Ranchers howled in protest. Yet, just as it seemed Oregon’s urban-rural divide had grown into an unbridgeable chasm this conflict ended when 4-H stepped in. 4-H staff from urban and rural Oregon along with a handful of ranchers from rural Grant County did the unexpected. They invited kids from urban Portland middle school to live and work along side them and see a rancher or farmers side of life.
Today the 4-H Urban-Rural Exchange involves youth as a catalyst for change for a sustainable Oregon future by providing a venue for rural and urban youth and families to share their stories, their lifestyles, their beliefs and their practices for managing the land for the next generation. Through this program, urban youth and their adult chaperons travel to rural Eastern Oregon to live and work alongside 4-H ranch and farm host families for 6 days. Likewise, rural youth travel to Portland with adult chaperons to live and work alongside their 4-H urban host family.
The program provides youth who are too often exposed to viewpoints on one side of an issue, a first hand experience on the land. It is this experience of being on the land and walking in the shoes of their host family that youth can begin to understand more deeply how and why Oregonians manage the land the way they do.
Through the process of developing this program 4-H Faculty quickly learned that a key to helping youth understand the the natural resource issues as well as the sustainability and resiliency of their host community, youth first need some knowledge about the dynamics of the influential social, environmental, and economic systems that underlie them. Thus, while the program began as a response to the issue of the reintroduction of wolves in Oregon, in the end the program is designed to help youth understand the broader social, cultural and economic issues within rural and urban Oregon and the interdependence between both sides of the state.
During their stay with their host family youth participate in daily chores in caring for the land with their host family. More importantly though, youth are involved in all aspects of community life of their host family. The attend school for a day, participate in community events, shop at the local store, attend a local sports game, meet local neighbors and sometimes attend church to name a few of the activities.
Participant Selection Process
Approximately 40-50 youth are selected to participate in this exchange each year. Youth selected to participate in this program must submit a 4-H program application and get approval from their school administrator and principal. Teachers and 4-H staff screen youth applications. Youth are selected for their commitment and openness to learn and their potential for serving as an ambassador for their community. Participating youth must also commit to giving a presentation back home about what they learned during their 6-day exchange. Once they are selected youth are paired with another student of the same gender and then matched with a host family. All youth are expected to write a letter of introduction to their host family.
Likewise, 8-10 adult chaperons are also selected to participate in this program. All adult chaperons must complete the OSU Extension 4-H Leader screening process and undergo a criminal background clearance. Chaperons are recruited and selected from teachers, parents and community partners.
Host families for this program are recruited from current 4-H and OSU Extension families. All adults in the host family must complete a background information application and participate in a host family site visit by the 4-H Extension faculty. Host families are selected for their ability to provide a meaningful experience for their visiting youth or adult chaperons.
Prior to loading in the vans and heading across the mountains to their host family, all youth and adult participants in the program must first complete a series of 4-H educational programs designed to prepare them for their experience. A 30-minute introductory program is provided at the beginning for the school year to introduce all potential students to the program and explain the application process. A series of 2-3 follow up educational sessions are held over the next several months. These educational sessions focus on the social, cultural and environmental issues of their host communities; cross-cultural communication and understanding; and sustainable urban and rural agriculture.
A mandatory one-hour orientation is held for all participating chaperons, youth and their parents. Participating chaperons also participate in additional training related to the roles and responsibilities of being a chaperon.
During the Exchange
Four six-day exchanges from urban to rural Oregon take place the same week in April. Urban 4H youth travel to multiple communities in Harney County, Grant County, Wallowa County and Klamath County. A few weeks later, youth from rural Oregon travel to urban Portland for a 5-day exchange.
Traveling to their host community takes several hours and generally includes brief stops at historical and/or natural landmarks within the state. A lunch stop is held at a local 4-H Extension office along the route.
Once youth and their chaperons arrive at their host county 4-H office, the program begins with a potluck dinner with all the host families and visiting youth and chaperons. The potluck is designed to give youth and chaperons the opportunity to meet their host families, participate in icebreaker activities, and learn about the guidelines and expectations for the week.
During their stay with their rural host family Portland youth work alongside ranchers and farmers from rural eastern Oregon to learn the joys and challenges that comes with real rural life. Some activities include: caring and feeding livestock, vaccinating animals, branding cattle, chopping wood, and cleaning barns. Urban youth learn that ranching and farming is a 24-hour around the clock profession and caring for their livestock involves even checking on their livestock at 2 am. Urban youth also attend a school for the day in their rural community host school. In some cases urban youth who are use to attending school with 500+ students in three grades are surprised to find some rural schools with less than 100 students in 12 grades.
Likewise, rural middle school youth visit Portland to learn about the joys and challenges of urban life. Rural youth live and work alongside urban families and explore issues relevant to Portland such as transportation, greenspaces preservation, urban agriculture and water management. Rural youth learn how to use public transportation, visit a farmers market and/or community gardens, tour a waste treatment plant , or visit a recycling center. They also attend school for a day. Unlike back home in their community, rural youth visiting urban Portland walk to school or ride their bike. In some cases rural youth learn that urban students get to school by public transportation.
On the sixth and final day of the exchange, visiting youth and chaperons and their host families return to the local 4-H Extension office to participate in a debriefing activity and to say final goodbyes.
Once youth return from their experience living with a host family across the urban-rural divide, the program does not stop. Participating youth are divided into teams of 3-4 youth. Each team is expected to prepare and deliver a 15-20 minute presentation to the rest of their school about what they learned during the exchange.
More important, however, many youth continue their education beyond the 4-H program. Over 1/3 of the youth who have particpated in this program reported that they went back to visit their host family in the summer and took their own family with them. Several families in one Portland community also began a beef cooperative with their 4-H host ranch family.
Outcome evaluations indicated significant changes in attitude, knowledge and understanding of socioeconomic and environmental issues from both sides of the divide. A four year evaluation found changes in knowledge and attitudes among both urban and rural participants. 119 urban participants and 43 rural host family members participated in the study.
Urban participants reported significant changes in attitudes in:
1) Knowing about the lifestyles, beliefs and ways of living of rural Oregonians; 2) Understanding the beliefs and practices for managing the land by rural Oregonians; 3) Understanding how the actions of urban Oregonians impact rural Oregon natural resource management; 4) Their awareness of rural Oregon stereotypes; 5) Knowing the commonalities urban and rural Oregonians have in managing their land; 6) Their belief that ranchers have a respect and understanding of how to best manage their land.
Rural participants reported significant changes as well in:
1) Knowing about the lifestyles, beliefs and ways of urban youth; 2) Their belief that most urban Oregonians are open to hearing all sides of natural resource issues; 3) Their awareness of urban Oregon stereotypes; 4) Their belief that urban Oregonians have a respect and understanding of how to best manage urban natural resources.
Today, over 600 youth and family members have participated in this program since it began in 2006. Many of these 600 Oregonians will likely spend the rest of their lives living and working in their same respective part of the state. They might never step foot on the other side of divide. But from this day forward, they will have a different idea about the kind of people they share the state with and how they are managing their natural resources. And when that time comes when another issue around the managementt of our natural resources divides this state, these 4H youth, 4-H leaders and 4-H host families will have someone they know and trust that they can reach out to and get their input and insights on the issue.
To learn more about this program, the program sponsors and partners, or how to become involved, please contact us:
Maureen Hosty, 4-H Youth Development, Metro 4-H
Since the program began in 2006, there have been a total of 34 Exchanges between urban and rural Oregon. Three hundred and eight urban youth youth and 74 urban adult chaperons have traveled across Oregon to live and work alongside 130 rural families (a total of 434 Rural Oregonians). The program has since expanded from 4 counties to 8 counties: Multnomah, Grant, Klamath, Wallawa, Harney, Wheeler, Gilliam and Morrow. 4-H Faculty and staff are busy preparing for the 2016 Exchanges which will take place March 31-April 5th. Participants in the exchange will be recruited from 4-H Youth and Adults from 4-H Clubs and 4-H Partner Schools. For more information about this program please contact: Maureen Hosty OSU Extension Faculty Portland Metro Area 4-H 3880 SE 8th Ave #170 Portland, OR 97202 PH 971-361-9628 | cell 503-360-6060 | fax -971-361-9628 firstname.lastname@example.org
All Photos: Lynn Ketchum
How Environmental Education Can Address Issues of Environmental Justice in Urban Settings
by Anjelique Hjarding, Alicia King and Belinda Chin
• Environmental injustice occurs when the most vulnerable, poor, minority or underserved populations carry the greatest burden of environmental risk by living in “undesirable” areas.
• Environmental education can provide an opportunity to connect people to nature even in urban areas, and help empower people to mitigate environmental issues.
• Addressing the challenges of environmental justice through the support of environmental education programs can help engage people in actions to improve their environment.
• As citizens engage in environmental education and action bringing positive changes in their communities, they become more empowered to take future actions to further improve their environment.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental justice is defined as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”Environmental injustice occurs when the most vulnerable populations carry the greatest burden of environmental risk. Environmental justice seeks to create environmental equity and address issues of environmental racism and inequalities that are the result of human settlement and industrial development. Scholars have explored the topic of environmental justice on both applied and theoretical levels. From examining the geographic distribution of toxins (Lewis & Bennett, 2013) to equitable allocation of green space (Boone et al., 2009) to the debate over how to define environmental racism, there tends to be a pattern of environmental injustice suggesting that minorities and poor people are those that live in areas considered “undesirable.”
Many of the urban communities we work with are touched daily by environmental injustices. Landfills, interstates and train lines are most often located in close proximity to low-income minority neighborhoods. These areas often have reduced access to natural amenities and green space is often distributed by socio-economic lines (Agyeman & Evans, 2003). As educators, how can we work to bring environmental justice education to the forefront?
Environmental justice issues have a history of being excluded from environmental education study (Haluza-Delay, 2012). This can occur because educators lack an understanding of environmental justice or the politics of the education system dissuades teaching on controversial topics related to race and injustice. Environmental education can provide an opportunity to connect people to nature and can help empower them to actively address environmental issues. In fact, the North American Association for Environmental Education suggests that diversity and justice should be a top priority in environmental education, and that more progress should be done in this area.
Students in the urban environment can often experience a disconnect between themselves and the natural world and may not notice their direct impacts on the environment. Lessons focused on issues such as the carbon footprint allow students to visualize their impact on the environment and will help make the issue relevant.
Seattle: Race and social justice initiative
In 2002, the City of Seattle launched its Race and Social Justice initiative, and Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks) began an Environmental Stewardship Initiative. The Race and Social Justice is Seattle’s effort to focus on the roots of problems – to change the underlying system that creates and preserves inequities – rather than attempt to treat the symptoms (Seattle, 2008). Seattle City Hall acknowledged the need to expose institutionalized racism and expunge discriminatory municipal policies, procedures and practices overall; and Parks wanted to equitably serve more people, more often in the public green spaces where people live, work and play.
In 2014, residents of a historically diverse, working class Seattle neighborhood applied for a grant from the Department of Neighborhoods to pay for an environmental assessment and design for a bike trail in a public green space imbedded within a residential area. The Parks Board of Commissioners approved the project early in the year. No one had proposed a recreational use in a public green space before. In fact, there were no policies to refer to regarding uses of public green spaces. By summer, advocates and opponents of the mountain bike trail were vying for time to speak to city council members about their points of view.
The story, as reported by the local newspaper, The Seattle Times, presented points of view that, intentionally or not, perpetuated historic social constructs (Shellenberger & Nordhaus, 2007). These included: conflicts between whites and people of color concerning uses of parklands, “people are not a part of nature,” and people of color not having access to nature unless they are working in it. Those interviewed for the article were all white residents of the area. A photograph with the story showed a white male leading a work group in the green space consisting only of youth of color (Photo 1). However, there were no direct quotes given by youth of color in the article. Imagine the empowering potential of environmental education if used in this situation as a tool to facilitate discussion for better understanding and clarity of the issues among the various stakeholders.
Both opponents and advocates of the project used environmental justice to make their arguments to City Council. Opponents claimed the mountain bike trail would “exclude all but the able-bodied,” with a neighbor quoted as saying (Seattle Times, July 28, 2014): “We’re talking about young, white male energy. This is public land. This is a social justice issue.” Advocates for the bike trail said, “…[it] would give youths who aren’t able to get out of the city an opportunity to
experience the joy of riding their bikes in the woods. And in the process… the kids
Photo 1. Volunteer work party at site of proposed bike trail.
would gain an appreciation of nature and a sense of ownership for the greenspace.”
The green space was an urban mix of invasive plant species and native flora. Neighborhood volunteers, including many youth groups, spent hours restoring the forest and installing public trails. The area attracted wildlife as well as illegal dumping, homeless encampments, and drug use. At the end, City Council voted to award the grant in favor of the bike trail, with a caveat that Parks develop policies for use of green spaces (Seattle Times, August 13, 2014).
A lot of progress has been made regarding Seattle’s institutional commitment in 2002 to expose and scrub itself of discriminatory practices, policies and procedures. That said, there is still a lot of work to be done to reach equity and social justice.
Washington,DC: Urban Bird Treaty
Urban Bird Treaty program in Washington, DC engaged with several organizations that focus on the Anacostia River. One such organization, Anacostia Watershed Society, works to engage teachers and students in public policy and advocacy actions through targeted programs.
The Anacostia has a long history as a working port and industrial river, leaving a legacy of toxic pollution that impacts the health of aquatic life and humans that fish, swim, or otherwise recreate on the river. Stormwater runoff collects trash, bacteria, and toxins, and flows into storm drains, and straight into the Anacostia River and its tributaries. With a watershed that is 70 percent developed, the Anacostia is impacted by a huge amount of impervious surface. The Anacostia River is so severely impacted by trash that in 2007 it was declared “impaired by trash” under the provisions of the Clean Water Act. Additionally, the developed areas near this river serve a primarily low-income minority population.
There are many efforts to pick up trash manually or catch it with trash traps, but ultimately trash use needs to be reduced from the source. Reducing this impact one of the biggest challenges. The Anacostia Watershed Society has several programs available for teachers and students to help engage citizens in actions that will not only teach them about the watershed environment, but also how to take actions to improve the environment and to become part of the solution.
As part of the Urban Bird Treaty program, Anacostia Watershed Society was awarded grant monies to work on several projected related to engaging diverse and minority audiences in areas that are demographically considered underserved minority neighborhoods. Sixteen teachers were mentored and equipped for the Rice Rangers program (wetland plant growing in elementary school classrooms), including 11 grow light systems set up in schools. About 300 Washington, DC students participated in a lesson on wetlands and planted native wetland seeds in classrooms, engaged in field studies on the Anacostia River by pontoon boat and participated in wetland planting events. Elementary school students grew 2200 wetland seeds in classrooms and planted the grasses in restoration plots at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Kenilworth is a National Park in the inner city of Washington, DC surrounded by areas where communities are mostly underserved.
While there are not yet any statistics to show that engaging citizens in this area resulted in actions independent of the organized efforts presented to students and citizens, environmental justice actions are being shared with citizens and continued efforts are being monitored.
Agyeman, J., & Evans, T. (2003). Toward just sustainability in urban communities: Building equity rights with sustainable solutions. The annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 590(1), 35–53.
Boone, C.G., Buckley, G.L., Grove, J.M., & Sister, C. (2009). Parks and people: An environmental justice inquiry in Baltimore, Maryland. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 4, 767–787.
Haluza-Delay, R. (2012). Educating for environmental justice. In Wals, A.E.J., Stevenson R.B., Brody, M., & Dillon J. (Ed.), International handbook of research on environmental education (pp. 394–403). Routledge.
Lewis, T., & Bennett, S. (2013). The juxtaposition and spatial disconnect of environmental justice declarations and actual risk: A new method and its application to New York State. Applied geography, 39, 57–66.
Seattle Forestry Commission. (2014). Revised letter to Seattle Parks Commission – Mountain bike trail at Cheasty Greenspace. April 1, 2014.
Seattle Office for Civil Rights. (2008). Race and social justice initiative: Looking back, moving forward. City of Seattle.
Seattle Times. (2014). Council clears way for bike-trail work. Seattle Times, August 13.
Shellenberger, M. & Nordhaus, T. (2007). The Death of environmentalism: Global climate politics in a post-environmental world. Break through: From the death of environmentalism to the politics of possibility. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Thompson, L. (2014). Residents split on parkland bike trails. Seattle Times, July 28.
Tucker, T. An Environmental justice (EJ) teaching resource: Inventory and analysis of current practices in College EJ Education. Seattle University.
Article reprinted from Urban Environmental Education, an e-book published by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). Downloadable at http://www.naaee.net/publications.
2014 E3 Green Apple Award Winners
Using Links as Labs: First Green Connects Kids, Classrooms and Golf Courses
Glenwood Golf Course Superintendent Steve Kealy helps students measure water flow of a stream running through the course as part of the First Green Environmental Education Program.
As the United States seeks to meet the rising need for graduates with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) degrees, First Green is filling the gap with its innovative program of using golf courses as learning labs. First Green coordinates outdoor STEM “learning labs” at golf courses that allow students to perform hands-on experiments and tests, all within the focus of their schools’ environmental science and/or environmental horticulture curricula. In these outdoor “labs” students test water quality, collect soil samples, identify plants, do math activities and work with local issues such as stream-bed or owl-nest restoration.
Superintendent Steve Kealy helps student find macroinvertebrates in leaf litter from the golf course.
Many of the field trips involve community organizations. In Bellevue, Wash., the city’s Stream Team often has a learning station at Glendale Country Club’s field trips and engages students in identifying macro-invertebrates (bugs) from the Glendale pond. In addition, a Puget Sound area group, Nature Vision, provides a salmon life cycle lab.
A 501(c)(3) tax-exempt foundation, First Green was founded in 1997 and is based in Bellevue, Wash. Over 15,000 students have been on First Green field trips. Each field trip reaches an estimated 230 people with environmental and golf messages (due to students sharing with friends and families and teachers sharing with colleagues. First Green has replicated the program across Washington and into other states – Oregon, California, New Jersey, New York, Utah, Colorado, and just launched a program in Western Canada in May 2014.
First Green receives ongoing support from the Washington State Golf Association, Pacific Northwest Golf Association, golf clubs and individual donors.
In addition, First Green was awarded STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) grants of $155,750 and $100,000 by the United States Golf Association (USGA) for 2014 and 2013. The grants are funded by the USGA’s partnership with Chevron, designed to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines (STEM) through the world of golf.
First Green was awarded a 2014 E3 Washington Green Apple Award for Business Excellence. Steve Kealy, Golf Course Superintendent and First Green Board member, accepted the award at a ceremony on June 26, 2014.
For More Information
For more information about First Green, visit www.thefirstgreen.org or call 425/746-0809. The media contacts are Cathy Relyea, email email@example.com or call 425/373-9915; and Jeff Shelley, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206/522-6981.