Dear WAEE Members and stakeholders across the state,

It’s almost time to #GetOutTheVote!

The 2017 Spring Election on Tuesday, April 4th, includes the election of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
WAEE presented the following four questions regarding Environmental Education to both candidates. Incumbent Tony Evers responded. Please read below for his stance on EE and share with your colleagues and networks. And then get out there and cast a ballot!

Betsy Parker
WAEE Board Member

1.     How do you envision Wisconsin schools will take advantage of the Every Student Succeeds Act which indicates there is state funding “for activities and programs…supporting local educational agencies in providing programs and activities that…offer well-rounded education experiences…which may include…environmental education” to address student and school needs?  (Sec. 4104 State Use of Funds: (b)(3)(A)(i)(VI))

As a former teacher, I recognize the value of environmental education and how it can support learning in many content areas, not just science. I worked diligently with the Wisconsin Environmental Education Foundation in 2010 to reinstate the environmental education consultant position in the agency to support these interdisciplinary connections. Learning about this environment that supports all life lends itself to authentic opportunities for student engagement to apply skills and concepts learned in science, social studies, English language arts, mathematics, arts, agriculture, and so much more, to the communities in which we live and work.

As state superintendent, my agency supported the work of the Wisconsin No Child Left Inside Coalition and adopted a state plan to advance education for environmental and sustainability literacy. We will take full advantage of environmental education being a part of a “well-rounded education” under ESSA and continue to promote environmental education as an integrated part throughout the school day as well as in after school programs at 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

2. Wisconsin recently passed Joint Assembly Resolution 27, Wisconsin’s Children’s Outdoor Heritage Resolution, which states “members of the Wisconsin legislature recognize that every Wisconsin child should continue to have the opportunity to: discover Wisconsin’s diverse wilderness;…breathe clean air and drink clean water; splash, play, swim and boat in clean lakes and rivers;…play in the dirt, plant a tree, and grow a garden” among other things. How do you foresee Wisconsin schools playing a role in ensuring children have these experiences? 

Natural resources are a critical part of Wisconsin’s health, heritage and economy, as well as a source of recreation and renewal for residents. The state has had mandate for conservation education since 1935 to ensure that students understand this interdependence and I continue to support this connection through many initiatives. DPI has been a partner in Green & Healthy Schools Wisconsin since 2004 and as state superintendent, we expanded this program to help schools receive recognition from U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools for reducing environmental impacts and costs, improving health and wellness, and increasing environmental and sustainability literacy. When I visited Purdy Elementary School in Fort Atkinson School District, I saw firsthand the positive impacts these programs had on students, budget, and the environment. Sustainable schools help support sustainable, vibrant communities.

We have expanded environmental education outreach to early childhood educators to give children a strong start to developing this connection to the outdoors. During my time as state superintendent, we worked with several environmental education organizations to publish Wisconsin’s Plan to Advance Education for Environmental and Sustainability Literacy in PK-12 Schools. The three goals outlined in this plan include preparing students to tackle environmental issues, make field experiences and outdoor recreation a part of the regular school day, and ensure our teachers are prepared to integrate environmental education into their practice.

3. What is your personal experience with environmental education? How has outdoor learning and natural resource education influenced you as an educator and administrator?

Personally, be it winters spent on one of Madison’s many ice skating rinks or summers spent on the shores of Lake Michigan, my wife Kathy and I believe that there is absolutely nowhere as naturally beautiful as Wisconsin. Over my 40 years as an educator, I’ve lived in small towns like Plymouth, and Tomah, and more urban places like Madison and Oshkosh, and in every case, the pride Wisconsinites feel for our natural habitat is a constant feature.  Professionally, as a former teacher, I’ve always had a connection to the natural world, but as your superintendent, I have been absolutely inspired by the way Wisconsin educators use the natural world around them to connect with kids through learning.  My recent visit to Purdy Elementary in Fort Atkinson  is one great example of this innovation, and as your state superintendent, I’m proud to continue to identify, share and grow these exemplars statewide.

4.     Considering there are over 600 environmental education providers across the state, what do you think is the best way for Wisconsin’s school children and teachers to connect with these community-based resources?

Family and community engagement is one of our key strategies for promoting excellence for all. Strong partnerships help successful environmental education programs. We’ve seen this in F.I.E.L.D. Corps program from Wisconsin Green Schools Network at schools across the state, in Milwaukee schools participating in the Neighborhood Environmental Education Project at the Urban Ecology Center, and Aldo Leopold Nature Center’s partnership with Badger Rock Middle School in Madison. Schools do not operate in isolation of the community. Creating community partnerships to support environmental education will help promote excellence for all students in our schools. We need to continue to share these stories through our website and newsletters, and partner sites such as EEinWisconsin.org. The more these stories are told, the more success stories will unfold.

In the past few months, we have seen a shift in environmental education priorities within other agencies. Strong partnerships with state agencies and non-governmental organizations allowed various environmental education providers to step in a fill the gap where needed; DPI took on or facilitated the transfer of several new projects to continue to support environmental education and ensure these assets were available for our teachers and students in Wisconsin.