Out Of The Classrooms & Into Nature

Lesli Moylan, director of the Missouri Environmental Education Association, works with children during a program several years ago in conjunction with the YMCA. Photo courtesy of Lesli Moylan.

Missouri Environmental Education Association helps educators inspire youth people to care about, understand and act for environment.

Nature and outdoor teachers all over the state are psyched about the Missouri Environmental Education Association conference coming to St. Louis on Nov. 1-3. Lesli Moylan of Kirkwood is the new executive director of MEEA, and she’s a busy bee these days.

By Don Corrigan (Webster-Kirkwood Times)

“Much of our conference will be at the Saint Louis Zoo, which is perfect for this,” said Moylan. “We have so many expert speakers and activities lined up. Teachers are life-long learners and this is a chance to hear what is new with nature and environmental education.

“Teachers just need to get out of the classroom and network with each other,” said Moylan. “It’s so important to share experiences and to discuss the many challenges they face as teachers.”

Maureen Reed, who teaches language studies to seniors at Lindbergh High School, said one of her classes this fall is focused on water issues and sustainability. Reed said that Moylan’s organization has given her ideas for the students and she is looking forward to the conference.

“A lot of what I’ve learned from Lesli and MEEA is about doing ‘place-based’ education,” said Reed. “Get students into nature – into their own back yards to explore. We walk through the Lindbergh campus area and note plastics pollution or the lack of pollinators.

“A lot of what we do is ‘inquiry-based,’ which means we try to formulate the right questions,” explained Reed. “Back in the classroom, we ask: ‘Where have the bees disappeared to? Why are they important? How do we bring them back?

The loss of bees, sometimes referred to as “colony collapse disorder,” has been dramatic in America. The Saint Louis Zoo has had many educational programs on bees through its Center for Native Pollinator Conservation.

The Saint Louis Zoo also has been a major player to save pollinators with the Honeybee Health Coalition and the Keystone Monarch Collaborative.

“I am very excited that MEEA is bringing teachers from all over the state to our zoo to hear from the experts,” said Reed. “I know my students are tuned into environmental issues partly because of what they have learned from their visits to the Saint Louis Zoo. It’s such a great resource for us.”

A Great Science Line-up

“We have a great line-up of speakers from our zoo and the Botanical Garden,” said Moylan. “Topics will include, bio-mimicry, which is about using natural inspiration in human product design; and, also ‘indigenizing,’ environmental education, which is about bringing more inclusivity to these studies.”

Moylan explained that MEEA now has more than 550 members in the state. She said her predecessor, Jan Weaver at the University of Missouri-Columbia, did great recruitment work in bringing a variety of curriculum areas to their state organization of teachers.

She added that St. Louis is the perfect locale for “place-based” education with such resources as the Botanical Garden, Saint Louis Zoo, Litzinger Road Ecology Center, Audubon Center at Riverlands, Powder Valley Nature Center in Kirkwood, and so much more.

“These are great places to visit nature, in addition to our rivers and our forests,” said Moylan. “We need to get people out into nature. And it’s crucial to teach teachers and students about man’s impact on nature. But you have to turn off your laptop and your smart phone for a while and get into it.

“You can’t love, what you don’t know,” stressed Moylan. “And Missouri has so much to know and love outdoors.”

Moylan said a major emphasis of the MEEA Conference will be ‘citizen science.’ The public needs to know more about basic science, the scientific method for gathering knowledge, and how real science has helped us and can help us in the future.

Eco-Anxiety Issues

Other issues to be discussed at the conference include “eco-anxiety” among young people. Moylan said many students are fearful about destructive man-made climate change. They worry that adult leaders don’t seem to be doing anything about an endangered future.

“There is real fear about where our planet is headed,” said Moylan. “So, we have to teach about constructive things that young people can do. No more gloom and doom that heightens anxiety.”

Reed at Lindbergh said her students have done constructive ecology projects involving stream clean-ups, picking up and recycling plastics on campus, or writing legislators about the need to address the loss of pollinators that are so essential to our food supplies.

“We have an advocacy piece in our curriculum program, but it should not be controversial or political,” said Reed. “I think I am motivated to teach sustainability because it is a moral and a character issue.

“We have a responsibility to care for where we live and to respect the Earth,” said Reed. “That is not a right or left issue, a conservative or a liberal issue. It should not be politicized.”

Nevertheless, Moylan concedes that environmental education does come under fire at times. She said young people are keenly aware of how teen environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, has been bullied and threatened because of her stands on climate issues.

“Students in St. Louis have been talking about Thunberg,” said Moylan. “She has shown bravery Students and teachers need to be brave and learn to advocate for the planet and their future.

“We need to act out of love,” said Moylan. “Love for nature – and we are a part of nature. We need to act out of love and to avoid being confrontational. We need to reach out and have conversations about what science is telling us and how we can collaborate for progress.”

The MEEA meeting theme for 2019 is: “Care, Understand, Act – Inspiring and Empowering Effective Environmental Action.” Registration for the Nov. 1-3 conference can be made at Student registrations are free. It is not necessary to be a teacher to register for the conference.

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