Education, Awareness, and Action (MAEOE Conference)

Guest post by Emily Drobenak, First Grade Teacher, Accokeek Academy, Schoolyards as Classrooms Project partner school

In February, I had the good fortune to attend the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education, or MAEOE (may-o), conference. In short, this conference was a meeting of the minds towards the betterment of our planet and the people who live here. I, as well as members of the AFF and other local teachers, attended sessions focusing on education, awareness, and action.

My experience kicked off with a presentation by NASA Astronaut Richard R. Arnold II. What could be more engaging than a real live astronaut in his blue NASA jumpsuit? Astronaut Arnold spoke on the fragility of our great planet Earth. So often, we see the environment around us, but from space, you get a whole new perspective. While working on the International Space Station, you get the unique experience of seeing sunrise about 16 times a day. The photographs of these sunrises revealed just how thin a layer protects thriving planet Earth from the desolate space around us. We think of our atmosphere as many impenetrable miles of air, but it’s that thin wrapping that keeps our blues sparkling and our greens vibrant.

With that said, the urgency and importance of the conference seemed even mightier, like the weight of the world on our shoulders. However, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a ton of fun! Throughout Saturday, I was engaged, motivated and enlightened. For me, the sessions on how to bring environmental and outdoor education into my first grade classroom were the most important. It took a simple shift in perception to see that nature does not steal time, nature enhances it. The common theme seemed to be that our over emphasis on tests, and common core, and homework has actually stolen time away from our children’s time spent outdoors. Being outside has so many physical, mental, social, and emotional benefits from which children are suffering a deficit. I grew up spending my days outside, and knew that my students were not having the same experience. Yet, I was blind to the fact that I could act and be a part of changing that for them.

After the conference, I feel the push to make my students equally aware of their environment right here in Maryland. Lions and penguins are common knowledge for most elementary age student, but so should the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s state parks and preserved swamp lands. As we increase our own awareness, we can educate our students and promote environmental ethics.

To sum it all up, what I took away from the conference is that when we all understand and make responsible decisions, we are promoting a better, brighter life for ourselves, and each other.