Urban Environmental Education and Social Equity | eePRO @ NAAEE

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Urban Environmental Education and Social Equity

Cindy Thomashow, Co-Director of the Urban Environmental Education Program at Antioch University Seattle, is graciously sharing her time this week (starting today, Feb. 12 until Monday, Feb. 19, 2018) to answer any questions you might have about this innovative graduate program and potential partnerships she is seeking to expand this EE leadership inclusion effort nationwide. (See blog post "Wanted: Urban Environmental Education Leaders, Educators & Change-Makers)

Applications for the 2018-19 Seattle-based graduate program are now open. Check out https://islandwood.org/graduate-programs/urban-environmental-education-m... for further details and stories from previous student cohorts.

Cindy- Thanks a million for sharing your time with us this week!

To kick-off this conversation, can you provide a high-level summary of your program, intended and actual outcomes and describe the type of individual who would be most successful enrolling in this graduate program?

The Urban Environmental Education Program-

Rationale and Purpose:
We believe that education has the power to transform how people live in cities. Our graduates understand the complex urban dynamic and are prepared to work within communities to build resilient and sustainable places where people can thrive in healthy environments.

We view the city as an important ‘habitat’ for humans and other species. At least 70 % of the U.S. population will live in cities by 2050 and 51% of them will be people of color who come from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Not all people experience the same quality of life. Not all people have the means, the power or the voice to insure the environmental vitality of a place. Social justice plays a big role in determining how people live and thrive in cities. This dynamic intersection of environmental leadership and social justice drives the academics and the practices of the UEE program.

We are committed to transforming and expanding environmental leadership to reflect the diverse demographic of cities. Each year the UEE graduate cohort and the faculty are made up of at least 50% people of color. We learn from each other and the multiple perspectives within the communities where we practice. Our approach creates leaders who know how to incorporate the ecology of the city, respond to the multiple cultural perspectives and are able to educate others about the social, cultural, political and economic forces that drive city environments.

"I am an African American 'Natural Leader,' (Children and Nature Network) which means I lead others in connecting to the outdoors in the wild and the city. While there are people of color working in the environmental movement, black and brown faces unfortunately aren’t seen as much as they should be in leadership roles, or simply enjoying our public lands. I stand with a group of diverse Natural Leaders around the country who are working to change that." - CJ Goulding, UEE Graduate

The UEE program integrates learning about urban ecology and the built infrastructure with a deep understanding of the social dynamic that determines equity, access and just decision-making. Not all people have access to green spaces and many are more concerned about access to shelter and food, clean air and water and safety as a first priority. Urban environmental educators are challenged to create new place-based experiential approaches that use the city as a classroom incorporating these real issues into outdoor and environmental learning.

"As educators, long-term results rely on building Trust among constituents, learners, and community members. First, we build relationships…authentic and real relationships. Relationships are key to the longevity of any environmental solutions. We need to step outside of our personal assumptions, our biases, our stereotypes and listen to the stories from inside a community. The real experiences of everyday people shine a light on the environmental issues they face. Embedded in those stories are the keys to building stewards of urban places." - Jess Wallach, UEE alum

The UEE program integrates a different set of elements to “nature interpretation,” which includes high-density residential and commercial infrastructure, transformed waterways, waste streams and paved surfaces, air and water quality and access to health food. Understanding urban complexity and the interdependence of the ‘natural’ and the ‘built’ environment is key to our work. Cities are becoming places of ‘new nature’…a shifting perspective that is not always ‘green’. Understanding the nature of a city requires an intentional shift in environmental perception and educational practice. It requires a new conceptual and pedagogical frame for environmental education that influences the way theory and practice are conceived and delivered.

We practice our educational approaches in schools, civic and community organizations by engaging youth and adults in culturally relevant and meaningful environmental education aimed at stewardship and action. Environmental leadership informed by social justice guides all of our courses, the practicum, advising and recruitment. The program aligns primary concerns of shelter, work, food, clean air and water, and environmental health with our understanding of how and why urban places work the way that they do. Our place-based experiential approaches build a sense of stewardship, responsibility and capacity among citizens who in turn are prepared to build resilient and sustainable communities.

"Providing intentional voice to environmental justice means I have personal work to do…studying my culpability, my entanglement. It means integrating issues of power, access, privilege, and fairness into thinking about how I educate. Environmental education is more than studying nature in the city, it is as important as knowing the plants, birds and animals that live here. We are not studying nature IN the city, we are studying the nature OF the city." - Current student

Delivery Model:
The M.A.Ed is a 48 credit program featuring academic courses and an embedded Practicum experience. The program is run as a high-touch Cohort model. Courses run for 5 quarters beginning in the Summer with an Orientation and a 2-week learning intensive. Classes in the Fall, Winter and Spring run two days a week (Mondays and Fridays). Three days of each week, students work in paid practicum situations. Friday classes include a Reflective Seminar that focuses on the application of theory to practice in community-based organizations.

The Practicum experience, a graduation requirement for students, is a 30-week hands-on mentored experience in schools, nonprofits, community organizations, government agencies, and businesses that provides critical experience for the growth and development of students; creates a feedback loop for our Master’s program and supports local organizations and institutions. As we strive to advance social justice through active engagement we embolden our students to become “change agents” and to graduate prepared to integrate social justice work into their chosen professions.

The Practicum aligns closely with the actual social, political, economic and environmental relationships that occur in urban neighborhoods. Not unlike cultural anthropologists, UEE students are immersed in communities, learning from their experiences in schools, non-profits, youth development organizations, government agencies and other community organizations how to assess and interpret the flow of power and money, influence and leadership, environmental and living conditions.
The Practicum is a hands-on mentored experiences in a community-based organization designed to bring the theoretical elements of the academic coursework to life. The practicum supports both the growth and development of the graduate students as well as the community’s capacity for meaningful and sustainable change. These experiences cultivate relevant environmental and education outcomes that encourage the development of a community’s ability to engage in collective action for improving environmental quality including areas of shelter, water and air quality, safety and health.
Graduate students spend at least 12 hours each week for 30 weeks in the practicum site. A reflective seminar on Friday brings the practicum experiences together in order to learn from multiple perspectives how and why communities work the way that they do and how educators might work to build the capacity of organizations to effectively assess and address environmental issues through education, services and policy.

Outcomes or the students:
• To provide the student a practical opportunity to observe the integration of basic theory and practice in his/her professional education; to compare, evaluate, adapt, and adopt what is seen in practice to what has been previously experienced in theory;
• To provide the student an applied opportunity to promote and/or broaden his/her philosophy and understandings of the profession;
• To help the student gain an understanding and appreciation of the role, duties, and responsibilities of a full-time professional;
• To provide the student an opportunity for self-evaluation and goal setting;
o To examine one’s training, strengths, and limitations in light of the practical work situation;
o To be measured by professional standards.

• Identify how the organization works by providing context, history and relevant examples of service;
• Learn the confluence of social, cultural, political, economic and environmental influences on education and services that support the community;
• Identify the root causes and intersection/interrelationships of environmental issues or conditions;
• Demonstrate competency in the leadership, coordination or facilitation to the community, students, and staff as defined in the partnership MOU;
• Complete a ‘Legacy’ action research project that advances the work of the community organizations.

2017-18 Practicum Placements: This is a sample of one cohort. Each student provides personal and professional goals at the beginning of the program to facilitate the identification of partners for the practicum experience.

• Afterschool All-stars - Youth Development/Environmental Education
• BestStart WA , Health/Environmental Education Awareness Campaign and Program Design/Website Development in partnership with Pediatricians
• Boys and Girls Club of King County – Environmental Education Program Coordination
• EarthCorps Seattle– Environmental Education Educator/Curriculum Development/Program Planning (middle and high school aged youth)
• Friends of Waterfront Seattle– Strategic Planning/Community Development; Environmental Education/Curriculum Development/Program Design
• Futurewise– Stakeholder/Community Development/Curriculum Development
• IslandWood, Urban School Programs– Environmental Education Program Delivery/Teach and support IW’s urban field study programs
• National Parks– Community and Partnership Development/Curriculum Development and support for youth and educators/Program Coordination/Research
• National Wildlife Federation– Environmental Education (elementary aged youth)
• Nature Nurtures - Environmental Education/Development
• Seattle Parks and Environment– Strategic Planning/Climate Initiative/Program Design (elementary, middle and high school aged youth)
• Tiny Trees - Environmental Education/Curriculum Development/Program Coordination (preschool aged youth)
• US Forest Service – Mt Baker to Snoqualmie– Strategic Planning/Program Design/Grow opportunities to partner directly with other communities; Program Evaluation of community engagement programming for its cultural relevancy and effectiveness to reach and engage underrepresented communities

As we know, there are many accessibility barriers to post-secondary education (especially a graduate degree program) for young people and, in particular, people of color. This can include one's cultural background, academic achievement, parental influence, gender, financial resources, distance from campus...Can you elaborate on the type of support you offer your graduate students, and as well as your candidate selection process, to ensure a diverse and inclusive student cohort?

This is an exciting program and opportunity to grow professionally and personally. I wish this program was available when I was looking for graduate programs. I do know of some individuals who might be interested and will share with them this program.