For the generation of the great indoors, when most Texans don't know where their drinking water comes from and may struggle to navigate similar environmental issues , a broad coalition of statewide natural resource and education leaders is gathering here Friday, Jan. 25 to start implementing the Texas Natural Resource/Environmental Literacy Plan. The plan provides a framework for natural resource teaching through education, recreation and life-long learning.
The Texas Natural Resource/Environmental Literacy Summit runs 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25 and 8:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 26 at the TriPoint Conference Center, 3233 N. St. Mary's Street in San Antonio.
Former First Lady Laura Bush will deliver the summit keynote address at 11:30 a.m. Friday. In 2011, Mrs. Bush and a board of scientific experts, private landowners, conservationists, and businesspeople founded Taking Care of Texas, a nonprofit organization which recognizes the many benefits of conservation literacy, especially for its vital role in the future of Texas's land and water resources.
"As the trend away from outdoor experiences, upbringing, and learning deepens, we face sobering consequences for our health and well-being," said Carter Smith, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director, who will introduce Mrs. Bush at the summit. "But we can reverse this trend. We can restore our children's well-being and their relationship with Texas's rich natural and cultural heritage."
Smith and other summit leaders emphasized that environmental literacy is a non-partisan effort.
"It's not a process of advancing any one agenda," Smith said. "It's about building science-based knowledge and experiences to help people make informed choices. With the long-term challenges our state faces, such as how to provide water for people and the environment, we can't afford an illiterate citizenry when it comes to our natural resources."
Environmental literacy connects with a companion issue: the problem of increasingly urban families and children growing up disconnected from nature and the outdoors. The literacy plan is backed by the more than 60 organizations that launched the Texas Partnership for Children and Nature in late 2010. It also arises in part from the federal No Child Left Inside Act (HR 2054).
The effort is motivated by some sobering statistics:
--Children ages 8-to-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day, over 50 hours per week, connected to a television, computer, video games and other electronic media.
--A child is six times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike.
--According to the Texas Education Agency's Fitnessgram©, less a third of Texas youth are physically fit, and fitness levels decline in the upper grades. There is a strong correlation between a student's fitness and scholastic success.
The good news is studies show the problems are solvable. Families can reconnect with nature, children who play in nature are healthier, happier and smarter, and literacy can be improved by common-sense steps called for in the plan.
Although the No Child Left Inside Act focuses on grades PreK-12, the Texas environmental literacy plan is broader, involving adults and communities as well as young people and schools. The plan has six main components: Lifelong Learning and Community Connections, Formal Education, Informal Education, Professional Development, Assessment and Funding and Support.
See details about the Jan. 25-26 summit conference and read the Texas environmental literacy plan on the Texas Association for Environmental Education
website.—courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept.