Middle School Teachers Pioneer New Globally Focused Environmental Education Plans


All photos by Pete Oxford

It seems that we only hear about environmental plans and initiatives being made at legislative, university, and corporate levels—and we can forget that there are still folks like progressive secondary school teachers making bold moves in environmental education around the country. They just never get any press.

So now that the Toyota International Teacher Program has drawn to a close, I thought it'd be a good opportunity to take a long overdue closer look at some of the educators and their inspired impact plans for upgrading environmental education.

Bacon-Kellogg, right, with Galapagueno teacher Vilma Camacho Cherres
Sarah Bacon-Kellogg – Reforming Oklahoma's Environmental Education Curriculum
Sarah Bacon-Kellogg headed to the Galapagos with plans to strengthen her own environmental science curriculum. She left with plans for introducing environmental science to middle schools across her home state of Oklahoma.

Bacon-Kellogg sits on the Science Curriculum Committee for Oklahoma State, and she tells me that currently, there's no environmental science at all in the current statewide middle school curriculum. None.

But she's looking to change that. After gathering information, taking photographs, and engaging the Galapagos' unique environmental plights, she hopes to make a more nuanced case for environmental science in Oklahoma. She's particularly interested in renewable energy and sustainability, and seeks to introduce such concepts to students before they reach high school.

Having been selected out of a thousand applicants to go on the prestigious study tour in the first place certainly won't hurt either—being an International Teacher Program participant could very well give her some diplomatic firepower in negotiations she plans on taking up with the curriculum director of her state.


Andy Lombardo – The Paradox of Paradise
As a middle school English teacher, Andy Lombardo takes pride in introducing a thought-provoking curriculum to mostly conservative-raised students in Knoxville, Tennessee. As an amateur naturalist, he's more dedicated to the environment around his home than perhaps anyone I've ever met—he's volunteered his summers cataloging local flora and fauna for the All Taxa Biodiversity Institute, he spearheads his school's recycling program, he founded his school's eco club, and as a Boy Scout Master, he leads local youth on hikes through the Great Smoky Mountains even though his own son is only two years old.

Born and raised in Knoxville, Lombardo went to high school, college, and has steadily worked there ever since. He's only been above the Mason-Dixon Line once, for a conference in Iowa, and until the Teacher Program to the Galapagos, he'd never left the country.

After absorbing the environmental issues facing Galapagos, he worked with other US and Galapagos teachers to put together a lesson plan called the "Paradox of Paradise," which ingeniously injects environmental study into a classic literature survey. Literary staples like Wordsworth, Thoreau, and Eliot will be used to illuminate environmental issues—alongside a 'stations' approach that will also involve non-fiction, artwork, and protest strategy. The result is an inventive, fresh way to get students to consider environmentalism.

He called his Knoxville school to reserve library time for developing the plan from the Galapagos.

Ideas like this highlight the kind of thinking that will be necessary to successfully and effectively bring a new, post-hippy brand of environmentalism to new generations.

It all goes to show that a little Galapagos can go a long way.

30 of the top teachers in the US are making a trek from the Florida Everglades to the Galapagos Islands in order to engage a series of global conservation issues in the Toyota International Teacher Program. I'm traveling alongside the educators to report on what we discover about the threats and wonders on modern day Galapagos.
More on the Galapagos Trek:
Revolutionary Recycling Plant Blazes Trail in the Galapagos
To Tour or Not to Tour—Should An Environmentalist Visit the Galapagos?

Tags: Conservation | Ecuador | Galapagos