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Environmental Education in Impoverished Communities

Originally appears in the Summer 2012 issue

Looking out across the school yard towards an adjacent pond, there are many reminders of our school’s low economic status. With the community’s joblessness and low income, we are constantly struggling to keep our place and relevance in a county and a state wrought with cutbacks and a lack of funding and other resources. More apparent are the visual reminders of poverty such as the pollution, the desolate food desert, and a scarcity of things to do and public spaces to enjoy. In this article, I intend to share some strategies to make outdoor and environmental education a reality to anyone, regardless of the socio-economic make up of the community or the typical challenges of getting students outdoors.

As you look closer at the nearby pond, you see car tires along with Phragmites growing along the edge.  But a vast array of flowers and plants and insects still live there, reminding us all that nature is really just a few footsteps away. Soon one realizes that there are many opportunities in this rich, natural and unused land. These opportunities include potential for gardens, phyto-remediation, biodiversity studies, planting, nature trails, bird houses, and butterfly gardens; things that can make environmental science not only available but relevant and fun for students who previously may have barely thought about the natural world around them.

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Donald Hammond is a former administrator and now a Biology and Environmental Science teacher at Beecher High School in Linden, Michigan. He has earned several awards for his work, and previously published articles in the MSTA (Michigan Science Teachers Association) Journal and Principal Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan and the Michigan Association of Secondary Administrators Newsletter. Don can be reached at