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July 14, 2011

Laying the Foundation for a Clean Energy Future

OutdoorNation-ServeOutdoorsLaunchw-Brune-BBTO Safeguarding our communities and protecting our air, water and lands from climate disruption and other threats will require a sustained effort and a well-educated generation (or two) to understand the problems and respond with smart solutions.

Over the years, students in the U.S. have been falling behind in education, especially when it comes to reading, math and science. If we don't invest in student education today, who will have the knowledge to identify (let alone the skills to tackle) our long-term environmental challenges, such as the transition to a clean energy economy?

Schools and educators are increasingly seeing the value of using the environment and the outdoors as a context for learning across subject areas. In addition to ensuring today's kids are prepared to take on tomorrow's environmental challenges – and exposing them to the nature they may then be inspired to protect from climate disruption - environmental education has been shown to benefit kids in some more immediate ways.

Bus kidsResearch is demonstrating that using nature as a teaching tool can improve student achievement, test scores, motivation, self-esteem and critical thinking. In one pivotal study, a few days of outdoor  experiential environmental education significantly increased student interest in learning and improved their science test scores by 27%. Research is also finding that getting outdoors can improve physical fitness, reduce stress and lessen the symptoms of attention deficit disorders in kids which, in turn, can improve their ability to learn.

Unfortunately, schools are pressed for resources to implement environmental education opportunities. The No Child Left Inside Act of 2011, introduced today by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD), would begin to address this challenge by providing resources to the states to develop and implement environmental education plans for their K-12 students.

Campmcdowell Sierra Club is committed to a future where all kids have opportunities to get outdoors and learn from the natural world. Through a vast network of volunteer outings leaders, we are getting tens of thousands of kids outdoors each year on weekends and during the summers.

We are also "Joining Forces" with First Lady Michelle Obama to send thousands of military kids to summer camp through partnerships with the National Military Family Association and the YMCA of the USA. Sierra Club has plans to pull together the best of our work to connect people with the outdoors and substantially increase our impact over the coming years through a new initiative called Mission Outdoors – stay tuned.

A greener and cleaner future demands that students have every opportunity to learn from the environment and about the environment and that will mean expanding opportunities to the school day, too. Sierra Club is a proud member of the No Child Left Inside coalition which is working to build support for this landmark environmental education legislation.

--Jacqueline Ostfeld, National Youth Representative for the Sierra Club

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