Epic pushes for environmental education in school curriculum

POSTED: 02/24/11 12:05 PM

American intern Linden Rayton: “Kids are so in to it”

St. Maarten – Epic project manager Rueben Thompson wants environmental education to become a structural part of the curriculum in primary schools in St. Maarten.

Natural heritage and environmental education has to focus on local issues, he told The Today Newspaper. “”How did we get our ponds, our hillsides, why is it important to protect biodiversity, why is that important from an economic point of view as well,” Thompson said. “Those are the issues that need to be taught in our schools. We have the knowledge to give those lessons. In don’t care how they do it – by using our expertise or by hiring teachers for it, but it is now more important than ever.”

Thompson points to the numerous car wrecks that litter St. Maarten’s neighborhoods. “There are car wrecks and engine blocks in front of houses. The environment is degenerating in front of our eyes. But there are things we can do on a personal level to improve the situation: personal waste management. If we bring that to the schools, the children will teach their parents about it.”

Thompson added that the environmental groups like Epic and the Pride Foundation have limited resources at their disposal. “We stay open due to the generosity of corporate citizens and grants from the United States. But these grants are drying up, so we need structural funding from the government.”

For the past six weeks, Linden Rayton, a 23-year-old teacher from Massachusetts has worked as an intern for Epic in St. Maarten. Unfortunately, next week she will be returning home. “I have visited different schools, like the Montessori school and the Oranje school,” she told The Today Newspaper at the epic-office in Maho.

Linden spent her time at the schools with lessons of between half an hour and one and a half hour about the environmental health of local wetlands, the dangers of marine debris, and about mangroves and sea grass, and how all these element of our natural environment are critical for the functioning of the island.

“Kids from the fourth form down, they are so in to it,” she says. They have a very positive attitude and they ask very good questions. And they always ask: what can we do?”

Epic approaches both public and private schools every year with offers for environmental classes. “We do not always get answers from all the schools,” Thompson notes, adding that the offer has also gone out to community centers and churches.

Thompson’s drive for a structural approach is based on the idea that education is about continuity – and that is something Epic is not able to offer at the moment. Linden Rayton returns to the States after a stay of six weeks – basically her winter break from work she does for an organization called Nature’s Classroom.

“When an intern comes here it takes about two weeks to get them acquainted to the local situation,” Thompson said.

Linden Rayton has done it with pleasure and she would have loved to spend more time in St. Maarten.

Nature’s Classroom has thirteen sites in New England where kids go for week-long programs in the summer. “We take them into the wilderness to teach them about nature,” Rayton says.

While there is not a lot of wilderness in St. Maarten, Epic will takes steps to make environmental education in the classroom a fixture in the school curriculum.

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