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What Does It Mean For Students To Be Environmentally Literate In 2021?

Students no longer see environmental issues like climate change as a future threat. They look at raging wildfires and massive power outages and see an active crisis.

That’s one reason theIllinois Environmental Education Association just rewrote their environmental literacy framework for the first time in a decade.

“It's all changed drastically in the past few years,” said Abbie Enlund, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Education Association. She says the standards were outdated and asked all schools to do things the same way.

“And we now understand that not only is this not feasible, but it's not equitable, either,” she said. “Communities aren’t built the same, they don't have access to the same resources, they can't implement the same field trips and projects and strategies. “

Enlund says the tenets of Environmental Literacy for Illinois had to be broad enough to be easily applied to the classroom and also flexible enough to meet students where they are in their environment.

Illinois has had frameworks for environmental literacy since 1995. But Enlund says the group realized they didn’t even have a solid definition for what environmental literacy even is until now.

She says it isn’t just about understanding the environment but building relationships. It’s about seeing that everything is interrelated and that humans are a part of the natural world, not over it.

The new tenets of environmental literacy explore concepts like environmental justice and civic action.

“Some folks start really young with exposure to the natural world memories and experiences that bond them to a particular place or a natural thing," Enlund said. "But others are connected to the environment and super passionate about it because they have to think and fight every day for clean air, water, and fresh food.”

The updated framework will be released later this fall on the Illinois Environmental Education Association’s website. It includes links to curriculum, case studies and other resources for classroom teachers and informal environmental educators across the state.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.