Monday, February 23, 2009

Green Diversity Explored

How to encourage “green” diversity will be the theme of the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education at its conference in Ocean City Feb. 27 - March 1, sponsored in part by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

Despite President Barack Obama having just appointed the first ever African American to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, racial diversity in the environmental field is uncommon. MAEOE organizers say this phenomenon is reflected in their annual conference, with only a handful of people of color attending each year.

As part of the North American Association of Environmental Educators, MAEOE will address this issue head on in this year’s conference – Shades of Green: Exploring Diversity in Our Environment.

This nonprofit group’s goals include encouraging, educating, supporting, and inspiring Maryland educators to “build a citizenry that understands and is responsibly engaged in advancing sustainability to address human needs and to conserve the earth's natural resources.” This year’s theme is an important component of that goal.

Maryland boasts the largest state environmental educator’s conference in the nation, with more than 500 participating each year. The state numbers are impressive, but locally only a few staffers from nonprofit groups and government agencies will attend. (As of this writing no Worcester County teachers had registered for the conference, held in the Maryland coastal bays watershed, ironically the most ecologically diverse area in the state.)

In addition to racial diversity, the conference will also address diversity in teaching methods. Great effort was made to invite presenters to share ways to teach about the environment that go beyond the way traditional science has been taught in the classroom.

According to Maryland Coastal Bays Program Education Coordinator Carrie Samis, the MAEOE conference is also a great place for non formal educators such as herself, to share ideas with traditional classroom teachers. This networking provides extensive resources and professional development opportunities. Moreover, it is an opportunity for teachers and environmental educators to work together for the benefit of students – enhancing classroom instruction and, ultimately, improving environmental literacy.

Our environment is a resource we must all share, but to have any meaningful change the entire population must be included in the effort. We applaud this organization’s effort to encourage diversity in the environmental field today, which will ultimately benefit us all tomorrow.

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