Apr
16
2014

Youth: An essential part of the solution to environmental problems

Matthew Beattie-Callahan is another senior at 'Iolani School in Honolulu, Hawaii. He also participated in outreach for his final project for AP Biology. He wrote this blog post describing his experience being the teachers, not the students, to promote environmental sustainability in the next, next generation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an anti-Nazi dissident during World War II and was executed by the Gestapo for his involvement in plans to assassinate Adolf Hitler. A Lutheran Pastor, Bonhoeffer said, “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” Since World War II, the world has made great strides in working to promote peace and stability as well as prevent the types of atrocities that were committed by the Nazis. Yet, now the world is faced with a greatly different problem: a rapidly disintegrating environment; and this time children are not only passive receivers of the problems of earlier generations, but also the potential solution to these problems.

Often it seems that education and lifestyle changes on an individual level are as necessary and effective, if not more so, at promoting environmental sustainability as sweeping governmental legislation can be. This is the fundamental reason that youth are such an essential part of the solution to our environmental problems; it is in the younger generations that new lifestyle practices and social norms can and must be established to promote environmental sustainability. The first step to accomplishing those goals is environmental education. This past February, a group of my AP Biology classmates and I had the opportunity to engage in this environmental education; however this time we weren’t the students, we were the teachers.

We made the short walk over to Ala Wai elementary school to meet and teach a group of extremely energetic and bright fifth graders on a range of environmental topics: bacteria, water chemistry, weather, big animals, and small animals. Each of the topics was related to the neighboring Ala Wai Canal and the ecosystem of the area. We hoped that by teaching the fifth graders more about their environment and the fragility of ecosystems they would be more aware of their own actions and impact on the environment.

I think we were all a little nervous about trying to keep the fifth graders interested and engaged during our presentations. However, it quickly became apparent that the problem was instead trying to answer all of their questions in the time we had been allotted. The students were fascinated by everything from plankton under a microscope, to crabs they could hold, to the colorful bacterial colonies of a water sample from the Ala Wai.

Our experiences at Ala Wai Elementary show that environmental education can be fun, enlightening, and valuable. Hopefully, after seeing the bacterial samples from the Ala Wai, the animals that live in the canal and understanding the nature of the ecosystem, the students will be more aware and conscious in their efforts to maintain a clean environment both at school and at home. Furthermore, there is always the hope that by exposing students to biology and other science fields early in their education, they will develop a love for science and go on to make even greater contributions to environmental science and sustainability. It was an amazing experience to be able to teach the Ala Wai Elementary students, but my greatest takeaway from the experience was hearing the shrieks of laughter as the students held a crab or helped assemble a weather station and the knowledge that we had hopefully created a group of students who are more aware of their environment.

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