(HARRISBURG)—Agriculture teachers will become students when meeting with Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) educators to learn about the value of providing hands-on environmental education that connects students with real-world issues. Called Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEE), many teachers have found that supporting classroom work with investigations into local environmental issues engages students in their community and improves critical thinking. The workshops are being held in Harrisburg in February.
"We are excited for the opportunity to share information and resources with these teachers to support and enhance their approaches to teaching about sustainability and the impact of agriculture on water quality, particularly in their local communities," said Dr. Amy Green, Director of Teacher Professional Learning at CBF. "We also want to show them how the MWEE model can help advance environmental literacy and stewardship through field-based learning, in the context of agricultural sciences."
CBF staff will partner with the Penn State Center for Professional Personnel Development (CPPD) to address 170 agriculture teachers over the first three Saturdays in February at the Sheraton in Harrisburg.
The workshops for teachers coincide with the annual Agricultural Cooperation Establishes Success (ACES) conference for about 1,500 students from 100 Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapters throughout Pennsylvania. At ACES, students will learn social skills, leadership, and teamwork.
Teachers will learn about Pennsylvania's relationship to the Bay; the Commonwealth's progress and challenges in reducing pollution; and how agricultural education connects to and can include environmental education with field-based learning, student action, and stewardship.
"We want to expose teachers to some of the tools and strategies we've been working with in Maryland and Virginia, and how they can be applied in Pennsylvania," said Norah Carlos, Education Outreach and Communications Coordinator at CBF. "Studies have shown that environmental education improves academic performance, increases civic engagement, and instills a belief that individuals can make a difference."
CBF also has a Susquehanna Watershed Environmental Education Program. This field-based program supports MWEE in Pennsylvania, investigating the health of local waterways. Students study the physical characteristics of the waterway, the shoreline, and adjoining lands. They use water chemistry tests to determine water quality, examine stream health through examining the aquatic life that is present in the stream, and use maps to orient themselves in their watershed.
CBF also provides a Mentors in Agricultural Conservation (MAC) program that pairs FFA and 4H students with CBF restoration specialists, to participate in restoration work and learn about agricultural conservation projects on local farms.
"Issues like water quality, soil health, and implementation of best management practices are central to agricultural education, and provide prime opportunities for hands-on study," Carlos added. "We will also use computer technology to show these teachers how they can compare water quality across the watershed in the Commonwealth."
The CBF and CPPD partnership at the workshops will have long-term benefits to both organizations and for the teachers attending the workshops.
"Developing a partnership between the Penn State CPPD and CBF will allow Pennsylvania's agricultural education teachers to obtain the most current knowledge and skills related to protecting our water," added Dr. John Ewing, Associate Professor of Agricultural Education at Penn State University.