Thursday, August 6, 2020

Highlighting and Incorporating Environmental Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Environmental Education Programs

Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 143 tasks the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality with the “integration of environmental justice considerations into current and future policies, programs, and procedures,” and here at DEQ, we believe environmental education plays an essential role in that effort. 

“Environmental education connects people to the state’s rich natural resources and empowers them to bring positive change to their communities,” says DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan. “This program is for everyone and we want to make sure it represents the diversity of our state and includes the voices and perspectives of often underserved communities.” Secretary Regan serves on the Environmental Justice Subcommittee of the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force meeting established by the Governor’s Executive Order. 

To better represent the importance of environmental justice in environmental education, our office of has modified its 
mission statement and is seeking new partnerships and opportunities for our programs. “The goal of environmental education is environmental literacy for all residents of North Carolina and should include environmental justice and its history,” says Lisa Tolley, program director for the Office of Environmental Education. “To achieve this goal, we must focus on increasing access of diverse communities to natural areas and environmental education programs.”

One way we plan to meet this goal is to provide environmental educators with better access to training in justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. We currently encourage and accept professional development in these topics for credit in the NC Environmental Education Certification, a professional development program for educators, and we are already working to highlight more quality workshops, resources and training. Our office also plans to partner with organizations such as Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC), the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), and others to build training and professional development in justice, diversity, equity and inclusion into the certification program.

“By providing this training, we will increase educators’ cultural competency and ensure that environmental education programs are inclusive and relevant to diverse communities. We want to help more educators incorporate justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion in their teaching strategy, relationships with students, lessons, projects, and resources,” says Lauren Pyle, Executive Director of EENC. 

And these are just the first steps. The office will also continue working with community colleges and universities to increase diversity in the conservation fields and in environmental education by reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and minority-serving organizations and include them in a conversation on how to reach students. We plan to leverage existing university partnerships, such as the NC State University environmental education minor, as a model for other institutions and programs.

We are already using our existing platforms such as the successful Lunchtime Discovery Series partnership with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences to highlight current environmental justice work and the people and organizations that are engaging underserved communities and youth in the outdoors. Our most recent guest speaker was Tatiana Height, Doctoral Candidate in Agriculture and Extension Education at North Carolina State University, who discussed park and green space inequity in marginalized communities.

The series will also feature the museum's Coordinator of Accessibility and Inclusion, Jessie Rassau talking about the 
November 17 STEM Showcase for Students with Disabilities

As these plans develop, we will be using our new “Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” page on our website, as the main information hub for these resources and opportunities. We’ve also developed an interactive database of related webinars, workshops and resources that can also be found here and on the new page. Visit it often for new content and updates on this new effort, or consider subscribing to the Teachable Moments blog or the office email list.

Read the press release

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