I was in my second year of teaching Geography, the study of the earth, and I was working on my Master’s Thesis, Man as a Geomorphological Agent.
This year was especially significant for me and the students at Mechanicsburg Middle School. Seventh grade students were encouraged to join an activity club. I was the advisor for the Ecology Club.
The students needed a project. Middle school students have a reputation for having endless energy and enthusiasm and were very interested in having their project celebrate Earth Day. They collected large quantities of aluminum and steel cans to recycle. It developed into a very large project. We learned that the school district had purchased land that included a pre-Civil War farmhouse. The district had planned to build a school on the property. The school was never built. We were able develop this property into the Trails and Trees Environmental Center.
With the profits from the can project, we were able to fund purchasing historic trees, purchasing equipment, and developing programs and activities for grades K-12 at the site. Through the efforts of the students, teachers, administration, parents, volunteers, and Eagle Scout projects, the Trails and Trees Environmental Center has developed into a recognized center for opportunities to study, explore, and enjoy nature and the environment.
The best way to observe Earth Day is to educate the younger generations. Future generations will not have the opportunity to experience and enjoy nature, if we do not mentor our young on how to know, love, and save our Earth.
Inspiring curiosity and a sense of wonder, investigating, observing, and dreaming are just a few of the many experiences that we can employ to lead and direct children on their life long journey of discovery with nature. The influence of parents and mentors, and time outdoors, trips to museums, parks, mountains, rivers, fields, and shores will inspire and motivate children and students. We can teach them to see what others can’t see, imagine, or discover. They can interpret nature’s beauty and value by writing, painting, speaking, pretending, and listening to the natural environment.
Children must take time to look at the stars, listen to the wind, feel the rain, smell the flowers, and ponder the mysteries with their imagination.
A diversity of plants and animals in the landscape creates a healthy and balanced environment. The same can be said for our schools. Every student taking the same test, the same few courses, and taught in the same way lessens the creativity, individuality, and diversity of our students. Diversity and a sharing of experiences, ideas, enthusiasm, and knowledge is what have made this country great. The earth sciences and environmental education curriculums are not getting the attention they deserve.
Our children are being restrained by abundant rules and regulations limiting their time and experiences in the outdoors. Rules caution them not to collect butterflies, rocks, insects, sea shells, fossils, leaves, etc. They must stay on the path, not climb the trees, stay out of the water, stay in line, walk not run, stay out of the dirt, and not pick up that feather or egg on the ground.
Stars can teach us about creation. Insects, weeds, trees, streams, and mountains teach us about the earth. Every rock has a story to tell us about the past. Plants and animals tell about the present.
Our earth’s future will be determined by what we teach our children. It was true 50 years ago and is still true today.
Let’s make the earth sciences, environmental science, and outdoor education a top priority in the schools of Pennsylvania just as it was on the first Earth Day fifty years ago, when my students and I started Trails and Trees Environmental Center in Mechanicsburg School District.
“For in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We love only what we understand. We will understand what we are taught.” – Abu Dioun
Edwin Charles, now retired, was a teacher in the Mechanicsburg Area School District for 35 years. He has also taught at Harrisburg Area Community College and Messiah College.
This blog post was originally a part of the EarthDayPA50.org website, created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020. The website has since been retired but the sentiment – and our appreciation for our partners like Edwin Charles – go on!