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SRU's College of Education going 'green'

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Students in Slippery Rock University's elementary education and early childhood program are going "green" through a newly adopted sustainability initiative.

"It's a program that is returning to its roots," said Robert Snyder, associate professor in the department and a leader in bringing sustainability practices back into teacher education. The goal is get graduates to take "green" learning and teaching skills into their classrooms when they begin their teaching careers.

"We have started the program in the College of Education and have a website for our science methods course. We have added programs and course work that lets our students learn about sustainability and energy issues so they can go out and teach it to elementary-level students," he said. "As a large university there are many ways to make our campus sustainable, and we are taking giant steps to achieve just that."

The SRU program is already expanding to the early childhood program for those who will teach in kindergarten through fourth-grade programs.

"We begin the program in our student's junior year, helping them complete certification through Pennsylvania and the Project WILD program. They will become trained in teaching the activities of sustainability through the Project Wild program," he said.

Project WILD is a wildlife-focused conservation education program for K-12 educators and their students. It is one of the most widely used conservation and environmental education programs among educators of students in kindergarten through high school.

The program is based on the premise that young people and educators have a vital interest in learning about the natural world. A national network of state wildlife agency sponsors ensures that Project WILD is available nationwide and is training educators in the many facets of the program.

The new emphasis will apply to all SRU students enrolled in the elementary education program - approximately 60 to 70 students each semester.

"It's a new emphasis on sustainability," he said.

"We are seeing that young students need more 'Green Education.' Projects like planting a seed, seeing it grow, being able to measure root growth and understanding how much soil and nutrients are required is important in understanding science and nature," he said.

Schools across Pennsylvania are emphasizing science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas - STEM - and the type of high-level thinking and real-world applications fit conveniently into Green Projects. They also fit with the new core curriculum Pennsylvania schools are in the process of adopting.

The program will make use of the Project WILD training and the Growing Up WILD version for younger children, he said.

"We will have pre-service teachers going out to schools with that training under their belts," Snyder said. "They will have gotten some practice by working with the children in our SGA Child Care Center where they will practice their teaching skills. It is a win for the center's children since they will be learning the ideas and concepts behind sustainability."

"The child care students will visit the SRU Science Center to see insects, learn about tree diversity as well as other 'green' topics. The SRU students will have the chance to test run their teaching methods at the same time," he said.

Snyder, who joined the SRU faculty in 2001, said he learned about sustainability as part of his own interest and through Project WILD certification training.

"I have been using the information in my classes for about 10 years, but with support of my dean, we are extending the topic across the department as well as through the Early Childhood Club and a number of planned workshops," Snyder said.

Keith Dils, SRU's College of Education dean, has endorsed the program and said it ties to SRU's overall efforts in sustainability not only on a universitywide basis, but with other programs offered by his college, including work with local Girl Scout Brownie troops, and science student visits to museums and science and technology centers that offer information about sustainability.

"We ran this idea past faculty, and they liked it. We want to use McKay [Education Building] to expand the Green School Initiative program," Dils said.

He said SRU's College of Education initiative could be expanded to a service-learning project in which SRU education students analyze the building both structurally as well as its relationship to sustainability.

"They could collect the rain water, see if solar panels are a possibility or if the windows being used are energy efficient," he said. "We can literally turn our building into a laboratory related to sustainability so that our students better understand the importance. They might later share that learning with schools where they teach."

"They may also learn how to write grants to someday help their school's sustainability projects," he said.