Thank you, Don.
It is truly an honor to receive this award.
We created the Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature in 2008 to connect children with their natural world and to educate them to become responsible stewards of our troubled planet.
Our efforts have been buoyed by amazing partners,
Our hosts today, NAAEE work nationally and globally to expand opportunities for environmental and outdoor education.
We also want to thank the Blue Sky Funders for recognizing the challenges presented by funding needs and for working together to strengthen Environmental Education locally and nationally.
We also have some Coastal Stewards with us today, young people from the Eastern Shore who are really dedicated to educating their community about conservation and restoration.
Also the members of our Partnership: Co- Chairs, DNR Secretary Joe Gill, State Schools Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery, Staff Leads Britt Slattery and Gary Hedges. And partners from organizations like Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Parks and People Foundation, and the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education.
And last, but certainly not least, Congressman John Sarbanes for leading the national effort to ensure No Child is left INSIDE.
The partnership has three main goals:
To expand opportunities for young people to have unstructured time in natural settings
To expand opportunities for structured outdoor learning through park and public lands programs.
To ensure that youth are exposed to the natural environment at school through the development of a state-wide Environmental Literacy plan.
Together, in 2011, we made Maryland the first State in the nation to require students to be environmentally literate as a high school graduation requirement. We're also making sure that environmental education is woven throughout disciplines in grades preK-12, including science, social studies, math, language and art.
Last year we launched the Stream Restoration Challenge. This 3-year grant program will award up to $6 million to organizations to improve water quality while providing opportunities for students in service learning and environmental literacy.
Early results? This past spring 2,800 students earned more than 7,500 service learning credits, planting 46,000 trees. We plan to triple that output over the next two years, with 33,000 students planting 156,000 trees.
Last month we launched "Explore and Restore Your Schoolshed," a statewide initiative where students use the streams and creeks on or near their school properties as outdoor classrooms.
They are not only learning about their local environment -- they are taking an active role in improving and protecting stream health. More than 100 schools in 23 counties have signed on.
And our efforts to connect young people with their natural world are not limited to schools. Over the past five years we have graduated 1,800 young people from the Maryland Conservation Jobs Corps. By employing at-risk youth in State Parks, these summer jobs prepare members for green jobs, with meaningful construction, restoration and maintenance projects.
We continue to expand opportunities for parents and mentors to help the young people in their lives connect with nature.
Parks, nature centers, and communities are embracing the Maryland Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights as a way to help promote the vast network of opportunities available statewide for children and their families to recreate and learn outdoors.
[Every Maryland child shall have the opportunity to: Discover & connect with their natural world, Play & learn outdoors, Splash & swim in the water, Camp under the stars, Follow a trail, Catch a fish, Watch wildlife, Explore wild places close to home, Celebrate their culture & heritage and, and Share nature with a great mentor or teacher.]
For five years in a row, Maryland has had the #1 schools in the country. We're investing record amounts in those schools, and doing more to hold down the cost of higher education than any other state.
But we know that if we truly wish to prepare our children for the challenges of tomorrow, we must recognize that education is about much more than reading, writing and arithmetic.
At its core, education is about teaching our children to be responsible citizens of the world. It is about instilling in them the ideal that each individual can make a difference, and that each of us must try.
Climate change Air pollution Water quality Natural Resources depletion are all complex environmental challenges threaten our health, our economy and our environment -- the very future of our planet and the lives of future generations.
For our children and theirs to attain the knowledge and skills necessary to address these complex issues, they must reconnect with their natural world.
We have an opportunity now, because of the common platforms that we have built--with GIS, modern technology, and a more highly developed environmental science than we had 20 years ago--to crowd-source the healing of our world.
And to do it in a way that engages and excites students, a way that allows them to see the broad impact of their actions.
Our investments in environmental education today, will ensure that our young people graduate high school not only with the intellectual ability to tackle complex environmental challenges -- but also with the will and desire to care for and save our planet.