The following was first published in the PA Environmental Digest.
Since I was a child, I have always had an interest in wildlife and the environment. Most of my spare time was spent in the creek behind my house in Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County, flipping stones and logs to find salamanders after school.
My interests quickly turned into a lifelong passion after my exposure to wildlife and ecology classes in my secondary education.
My first exposure to these ideas occurred in 8th grade science at Eagle View Middle School after I learned about the Chesapeake Bay and the problems surrounding it.
Later, I was determined to continue my thirst for knowledge about the environment while attending Cumberland Valley High School.
Teachers provided us with countless hands-on learning experiences exploring Pennsylvania’s wild places to inspire us to care about wildlife and water.
Needless to say, it worked.
My fondest memories in high school are of these topics and the teachers that shared them with me.
I found success in FFA’s agricultural classes and participated in multiple career development events (CDEs) to continue my love of learning outside the classroom.
I claimed the first-place national title for the state of Pennsylvania in the FFA Environmental and Natural Resources CDE my junior year.
I found similar success in Envirothon, winning our county competitions with my team two years in a row.
In addition to my high school clubs, I quickly became involved with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and joined their Pennsylvania student leadership program my sophomore year.
I dove right into the experiences CBF offered to expand my education and help make a difference.
By the time I graduated high school, I was well-versed in streamside restoration practices through the multiple tree plantings I had volunteered for.
I learned of the complex ecological and social issues surrounding the Bay after numerous hands-on trips to the various islands that call the Chesapeake Bay home.
I became proficient in public speaking and writing in the process of successfully drafting and advocating for the Senate bill that passed in April 2019, designating the Eastern hellbender as Pennsylvania’s official state amphibian. Read more here.
Now, three years later, I am a proud member of the CBF’s Board of Trustees and full-time college student at The Pennsylvania State University. I am pursuing a double major in Forestry and Wildlife Biology with double minors in Political Science and Biology.
While at Penn State, I helped our collegiate CBF student leaders to found the Chesapeake Bay Club to engage other students in learning experiences exploring Bay health and restoration.
Studies have shown that environmental education improves academic performance, increases civic engagement, and instills a belief that individuals can make a difference.
Environmental literacy programs have molded me into the person I am today.
They have provided me with all of the foundations I needed to blossom into the student and leader I have become.
Unfortunately, the new, proposed education standards for Pennsylvania eliminate these teachings from the science curriculum.
With the current proposal for education standards in Pennsylvania, there is a lack of inclusion of the issues and investigations that foster understanding of Pennsylvania’s ecosystems. Read more here.
No middle or high school teacher will be held accountable for teaching our students about wildlife and water.
Without these key topics included in our education program, we risk losing the opportunity to create well-informed students through environmental investigations and exploration.
Including environment, ecology, and agriculture studies in the proposed standards at every level, educators would be able to continue the legacy of environmental literacy that Pennsylvania needs in order to build leaders in science and environmental studies.
In addition, the inclusion of environment, ecology, and agriculture in science standards provides an opportunity to include Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences.
I want every student who passes through Pennsylvania’s education system to have these same opportunities I once did so they too can expand their education and find their own passions.
Pennsylvania, named for its pristine and extensive forests, has a dedication to wildlife, fisheries, agriculture, and forestry. We need to uphold this standard in our education system.
I implore decision-makers to consider the repercussions that not including these programs may have on future students and to re-evaluate the proposed education plan keeping wildlife and water in mind.
While not all students have such in-depth interest in these topics as I do, we are all meant to be naturalists in our own way. It is inexcusable for young people to not have the opportunity to learn about the marvels of the natural world that surrounds them.