Did you know that there are 10,000 K–12 schools across Texas that serve over 5 million students? There are also hundreds of organizations that offer environmental education (EE) programs that directly and indirectly impact Texas students. These organizations serve every type of educator and meet a wide range of needs through programs that range from outdoor education at Galveston Bay to indoor classrooms in Amarillo. Across the state, EE service providers want children in Texas to graduate with the knowledge, values, and leadership skills they need to build healthy, resilient communities and protect our natural resources and habitats.
Imagine if every school in Texas provided a robust environmental literacy education to the 5 million students who are currently learning in Texas today. In January 2019, EcoRise launched an initiative, Gen:Thrive, to take a closer look at the landscape of environmental education in Texas to determine what programs are available for students and teachers, how and where they are being implemented, and how the organizations in this movement could scale their capacity and impact by working together. EE service providers include organizations, municipal departments, and state agencies that serve K–12 students with programming that is related to environmental literacy, green building, outdoor learning, e-STEM, and environmental justice.
This project is helping us understand the EE movement by visually mapping EE programs across Texas and correlating data indicators for equity and climate vulnerability. Using Geographic Information System (GIS) and data visualization tools to track EE programs alongside socioeconomic and environmental challenges, we are assessing environmental education efforts across the state. With this data, we can apply a ‘collective impact’ model to provides a systematic approach to engage EE service providers and stakeholders. As K–12 program providers identify opportunities to partner, they accelerate the collective impact of EE in Texas. The data and visualizations can also be used to create compelling value propositions, expand EE awareness, and drive new teachers and funding to the movement.
During Phase I of the project, 80 organizations with 105 unique programs joined the initiative, resulting in an initial analysis of field trends and detailed organizational profiles. The portion of organizations we surveyed are serving over 710,000 students in Texas. Only 36% of respondents target students from low socioeconomic communities. And over 90% of respondents are open to new collaborations, which will help EE providers reach more students and create more equitable programs.
With the completion of a comprehensive survey and map in Phase I, we are now moving into Phase II of the project. With funding from Target, the Pisces Foundation, the Meadows Foundation, and the Environmental Fund of Texas, we are currently expanding the surveying and mapping process to further analyze the work of and systems related to Texas EE service providers. In 2020, our goal is to prioritize collaborations and cultivate systems strategies to strengthen our environmental education impact. With more data, we can identify the rural and urban communities that lack access to EE programming and those that are most vulnerable to social and environmental risks.
We have recently hired a dedicated Project Manager, Jaynell Nicholson, to ensure the growth and further success of Gen:Thrive. Jaynell is excited to fortify this collective project so that it can serve as a resource for many organizations throughout Texas and beyond. Her past work and graduate studies include improving the quality of tools used to understand and address environmental concerns and environmental justice issues within communities. With her expertise, we are well equipped to help ensure that every student in Texas receives quality environmental education regardless of their background.
In addition to EcoRise staff, Gen:Thirve will also include a Leadership Council and a Technology Council. The Leadership Council will consist of leaders who have EE expertise and/or expertise relevant to the project. These individuals will convene regional stakeholder meetings to gather community insights, assess regional needs, and help guide the next steps of the project. The Technology Council will consist of individuals who have specialized technical skills and can assist with technology needs that arise as the project expands.
With support from the Leadership Council, EcoRise will facilitate a series of regional EE service provider summits to gather and analyze data, identify insights, and forge strategic partnerships. While this project is initially focused on Texas, it is being built with infrastructure and processes that can be adopted in communities across the nation.