STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) has been a key focus area for the Obama administration, ranging from 2009’s “Educate to Innovate” program to a recent Town Hall meeting where Obama reinforced STEM education as a “must have.” The latest announcement on this front is the introduction of the Green Ribbon program for public and private schools that, with support from the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the EPA, will recognize and honor schools that create healthy and sustainable learning environments and excel in teaching environmental literacy to its students.
Encouraging STEM and environmental learning in schools has long been a focus for The Nature Conservancy. The organization’s LEAF program works with a network of partner high schools to engage urban youth in conservation activities and help foster future leaders in environmental stewardship. With partner schools currently in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Georgia, LEAF provides students with paid summer internships on nature preserves around the country and helps enrich these in-the-field experiences in the classroom by providing development opportunities and helping educators at the partner high schools share resources. With the help of a $3.1 million grant from the Toyota USA Foundation, LEAF is expanding the network with schools in California, Illinois and Massachusetts by 2012.
LEAF has shown phenomenal success in driving awareness of key environmental issues and having students move on to pursue environmental degrees and careers. According to a recent study of LEAF alumni:
- 34% majored in life sciences vs. 6% of national average
- 52 % volunteer for environmental causes vs. 3% of national average
- 93% of alumni expressed increased interest in environmental issues
Brigitte Griswold, director of Youth Programs for The Nature Conservancy, can discuss in detail how LEAF is working with these partner schools and how it is making a difference in engaging students in key science and environmental areas, as well as what the new Green Ribbon program will mean for the education system and the effect it will have on STEM.