From the classroom to the field: Sea Grant transforms environmental education in Puerto Rico
Place-based environmental education teaches students about their local surroundings and has the potential inspire a conservation ethic. This approach can also help with community resilience by showing students how coastal ecosystems can protect communities from extreme weather like the recent Hurricane Maria. However, according to Shirley Droz, a schoolteacher from Puerto Rico, “Textbooks and classroom-based lectures can often overlook local species and issues that may be affecting the nearest ecosystems.”
Droz isn’t the only educator who recognized this gap in education. Puerto Rico Sea Grantoffsite link developed a coastal ecosystems curriculum that engages K-12 audiences on the conservation and sustainable use of their coastal resources.
Completed by NOAA Sea Grant and the University of Puerto Ricooffsite link, the guides in the curriculum focus on Puerto Rico’s mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and coral reefs. Sea Grant program staff wrote the guides and scientific experts reviewed them. These guides include a background on the ecosystem, instructions for teachers, and activities including laboratories and assessments, along with a DVD. Aligned to the standards by the Department of Education of Puerto Rico, the guides help educators incorporate coastal themes in both private and public schools. Sea Grant also trains teachers on how to best use them, which builds capacity in schools. The guides promote classroom and field lectures where students apply the local knowledge they have attained to real-world observations.
The implementation of the guidelines began with a pilot study carried out in 12 schools in Puerto Rico. In 2016, Sea Grant staff trained about 205 teachers, benefiting 38,882 public, private, and homeschooled students.
“I created a marine science course in my school so students learned the importance of coastal ecosystems,” educator Chardmary Rodriguez said, who uses the curriculum in her course. “The curriculum and fieldtrips made students talk about what they learned with other classmates who will be enrolling my course next year!”
Educator Brenda Estévez collaborated with Sea Grant in testing and implementing the guides. “When teaching in Las Marías, I realized how important the guides where to show our coastal ecosystems to students from the central part of the Island,” she said, “Now my students are choosing marine topics for their science fair projects.”
Communications with other Latin American nations, such as the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico, are underway to share ideas on how to implement this model in their schools. In addition, a fourth guide focused on climate change is under production.
"We have been successful and we want more schools to join us," said Delmis Alicea Segarra, Sea Grant Puerto Rico’s Education Program Manager and Evaluation Specialist.
Spanish guides are available on the Internet, free of cost on the Puerto Rico Sea Grant websiteoffsite link. The guides are also being translated into English. For more information, you can email Delmis Alicia Segarra or read more on Sea Grant's website.