Environmental Education

Environmental Literacy Initiative

Environmental Literacy Website:

Please access the SMCOE Environmental Literacy Website for more information about the Initiative, Framework, Vision, Strategic Plan, News, Resources and more.

Environmental Literacy Launch:

September 2017

This July marked the official launch of San Mateo County Office of Education’s new Environmental Literacy Initiative. For the past 50 years, Environmental Education has been championed by SMCOE’s award-winning Outdoor Education program, which brings over 5,000 students each year into the outdoors for a magical week of learning about the natural world and working together as a community. While this program has been and will continue to be a wonderful experience for San Mateo students, the SMCOE administration is eager to broaden the approach to deepen the integration of environmental literacy in schools across the county.

So what does the term Environmental Literacy actually mean? The California Department of Education (CDE) issued the Blueprint for Environmental Literacy in 2015, in which they defined environmental literacy as, “the capacity to act individually and with others to support ecologically sound, economically prosperous, and equitable communities for present and future generations. Through lived experiences and education programs that include classroom-based lessons, experiential education, and outdoor learning, students will become environmentally literate, developing the knowledge, skills, and understanding of environmental principles to analyze environmental issues and make informed decisions.”

This idea of being environmentally literate, goes hand in hand with the push for formal education institutions to include other 21st century literacies, such as, civic literacy, health literacy, business literacy, global literacy, etc. Furthermore, environmental literacy has become increasingly important as the negative impacts of Climate Change are being felt both globally and locally. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicators include increased frequency and potency of extreme weather events, sea level rise, species extinction, water shortages, declining agricultural production, and spread of diseases (NOAA, 2014). In California, we are particularly concerned about resource management that impact quality of life and economic sectors, such as energy, fresh water, and food systems.  

Because the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation are expected to be particularly pronounced for poor communities and countries, environmental literacy is without a doubt an equity issue. Furthermore, access to high quality environmental education needs to be equitably available to all students, as every single human needs to be engaged living a sustainable existence.

The good news is that Californians fully agree with this imperative as, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, 89% of Californians think Environmental Education should be in schools — which makes sense, as environmental sustainability now has a huge emphasis in College and Career Pathways. For example, the UC Regents, CA State University systems, and Catholic Colleges and Universities are all at the forefront of integrating sustainability into all facets of the college experience. Furthermore, what are considered the most prestigious universities in our country, such as Stanford and Harvard, have been outspoken and active in integrating environmental sustainability into their facilities, curriculum, and community programs. Lastly, it should be noted that green-sector jobs are on the rise in California and across our country; for example, solar and wind jobs have grown at rates of about 20% annually in recent years, and sustainability now collectively represents 4–4.5 million jobs in the US, up from 3.4 million in 2011 (Environmental Defense Fund, 2017).

The California State Government including the Governor’s office, Legislative bodies, and California Department of Education have also been building momentum for further integration of Environmental Education into schools and districts across the state. For example, in the past 15 years they have passed AB1548, ACR128, and have created the Blueprint for Environmental Literacy, which all call for efforts of environmental sustainability in both facilities and curriculum. To learn more about the history of Environmental Education and Literacy, associated legislation, and related education movements, see: Environmental Literacy Overview and History.

With the definition of environmental literacy and call to action laid out, let’s now turn to understanding how the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE) plans to bring this initiative across the county. At the core of these efforts is the understanding that Environmental Literacy is not just one more thing that schools need to juggle in this ever-changing landscape of new standards and initiatives. The Environmental Literacy initiative is meant to help us re-focus our work as educators and recognize that, because schools play a quintessential role in educating the future citizens, leaders, and problem solvers, it is imperative that we embed environmental literacy into all facets of education.

This is why the SMCOE vision for Environmental Literacy is that all schools make a Whole School Sustainability Approach to integrating sustainability into the 4Cs of an institution: Campus and operations, Curriculum and instruction, Community programs and partnerships, and overall Culture.

In order to help site stakeholders in achieving this goal, SMCOE will offer pathways of Support, Connection, and Consistency. Furthermore, SMCOE has adopted the mission for Environmental Literacy to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences to act individually and collectively to create an environmentally sustainable, socially just, and economically viable world.

For example, SMCOE will continue to offer professional learning cohorts geared towards helping teachers embed environmental literacy into their curriculum (for example SM ELC), and  will be starting new pathways for engagement such as an Environmental Education Conference, Best Practice Toolkits, and better access to community partners such as the wide array of nonformal Environmental Education providers in our county.

Stay tuned for more information when SMCOE launches the Environmental Literacy website in the coming weeks. And if you are interested in getting more involved or have a leader in your community who you think should be connected to the county office, please email ayeghoian@smcoe.org.


Please check back for future workshops to be held with the San Mateo County Environmental Learning Collaborative. 

We would like to thank Ten Strands and the State Environmental Education Roundtable (SEER) for their partnership in coordinating the San Mateo County Environmental Learning Collaborative.