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Closing the youth-nature divide : perceived effects of place-based environmental education
Tara Johanna Kubala Mills
May 13, 2015
Sociology - Environmental Studies
Humans often think of themselves as separate entities from the environment that surrounds them and tend to use nature as a destination to get away from the stress of their daily lives. Youth have become particularly divided from nature. This separation can lead to lack of environmental knowledge and positive environmental behaviors that are important for the future of the planet. Environmental education attempts to remedy this divide between people and their environment in the hopes that more knowledge will inspire people and stimulate more sustainable actions and choices. However, there is debate about the accessibility of environmental education and how useful it is in inspiring these changed attitudes and behaviors. Place-based environmental education attempts to address critiques by connecting students directly with the environment in which they live with hands-on learning techniques. My research, a case study of the Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute, explores how adult alumni of one of its programs (SECRETS) attribute their current environmental attitudes and behaviors to their experiences in the program. A sample of alumni above the age of 18 responded to an online survey that asked them about their perceptions of the SECRETS program, the extent to which they remember engaging in the program, and their current environmental attitudes and behaviors. This research provides a glimpse into the perceived long-term effects of place-based environmental education and nature experiences for children. Place-based environmental education through the SECRETS program was overwhelmingly a positive experience for alumni. The more engaged a student remembered being in the program as a child, the more he/she believed SECRETS to be an influential part of his or her life. Respondents thought SECRETS contributed positively to current environmental attitudes and behaviors, and many of them believed the program to be especially useful for students who do not have access to the environment outside of the program. The majority of students commented that they had many positive environmental education experiences in their youth through informal sources such as influential adults and hiking, and formal sources such as SECRETS. Methods of environmental education have changed over time and subsequently environmental education research has had different foci: this study looks more closely at the influence that adults perceive youth place-based environmental education to have on their current environmental attitudes and behaviors.