GA teacher attends World Congress on Environmental Education in Prague
Laura Oslik teaches her students that they don’t know what they can achieve if they don’t try.
the Greencastle-Antrim High School science teacher applied this lesson to herself and had the opportunity to witness the 11and World Environmental Education Congress in March, as well as funding from the National Education Association Foundation to cover his trip to Prague in the Czech Republic.
“The WEEC congresses are the most significant existing experience of connecting all actors at the international level in the field of environmental education”, according to the congress website.
Oslik joined educators, government officials, representatives of international businesses and organizations, and others from around the world March 14-18 in Prague. NEAF funding also made it possible for fellow G-AHS science professor Zeke Flores to attend virtually.
The theme of the congress was “Building Bridges in Times of Climate Emergency” and it included sessions, field trips, discussions and webinars with experts from around the world.
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“It also works to promote active, informed and responsible citizenship as a condition of a more peaceful, just and ecological human society, to guarantee equitable access to natural resources, and a harmonious relationship between human beings, other living beings and the planet,” according to the website.
The peaceful objective of the gathering was played out against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine. The WEEC was based at the Prague Congress Centre, where the first floor has been transformed into a reception center for refugees. When she arrived for check-in, Oslik saw Ukrainian women and children with suitcases.
“People were flocking everywhere, it was happening around us,” she said. During interactive art sessions, delegates made supportive images in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag, which were displayed in windows and eventually handed over to refugees.
Everyone who spoke mentioned the conflict, all saying something like “We can’t live in a sustainable world where these kinds of attacks on democracy exist,” Oslik said.
From Greencastle to the Czech Republic
“I feel like I’m in a district that wants teachers to grow,” Oslik said. Teachers are encouraged to think about what they need and want to learn.
For Oslik, this meant more professional development in her specific area – environmental education – and saw WEEC as meaningful to herself, her district, her school, and her students.
“The more I watched it, the more I wanted to go,” she recalls. This included paying for the trip and Oslik admitted she had dim hopes for the NEAF grant. She credits her success to the help of fellow G-AHS teacher, Meagan Brockway, and support from GA Business Manager Caroline Royer.
For many people the idea of traveling to Eastern Europe alone would be daunting, but Oslik has strong ties to the region. Her husband, Miroslav Oslik is originally from Slovakia, and she lived and taught there for two years early in her career. She has traveled extensively in Europe and has visited Prague many times before.
The former Laura Lindgren grew up in Waynesboro, graduated from Shippensburg University in 2008 and served a term as a long-term substitute at Greencastle before heading overseas. She and her husband married in 2010, have three children, and live in Waynesboro, where he teaches high school special education.
Oslik, who also has a master’s degree from Wilkes University, has been in a G-AHS class for 12 years. Her classes included anatomy and physiology, science enrichment, and biology, but she primarily teaches environmental science now.
Environmental education in the classroom and beyond
Her time at WEEC gave her lots of ideas, not just for her high school science class, but for the entire school district. Oslik, in person, and Flores, online, were only able to attend a fraction of the proposed sessions, but have online access to conference videos for a year. They can also network by continuing to interact with presenters and other attendees.
Oslik’s expectations of WEEC took into account the competencies the school board adopted in early 2021 to complete the district’s “Portrait of a Graduate.” The skills are critical thinking and social responsibility; creativity and innovation; literacy and communication; physical and emotional health; and general knowledge and academic preparation.
“I knew what I was hoping for,” Oslik said. “I understood that and much more.”
She discovered the European approach to education for sustainable development, which incorporates many of the same skills that GA cultivates in its graduates.
A panel discussion focused on the rapid shift to virtual teaching due to COVID-19 and its consequences. Some said instant access to information is good, but others talked about the shift from being surrounded by the whole environment to focusing on a single device.
Another excellent session focused on the importance of nature for 21st century students. Oslik said the GA school district is already valuing and having opportunities for students to hang out. She explained that studies show that children who take risks when young, such as jumping from rock to rock, are less likely to injure themselves later in life.
Exposing students to the outdoors will give them an ingrained sense that the natural world is important and that they will feel connected to it from an early age.
Oslik gathered information about cross-disciplinary opportunities so that “we can live on this earth as long as possible without running out of resources.”
She is already talking with other GA teachers and plans to offer them professional development on how sustainability can be integrated into all disciplines.
It can be as simple as asking students in math class how many acorns there are in a tree to get kids thinking about the world around them.
She would also like to see more experiential learning. An example would be studying Conococheague Creek for things like water quality and sedimentation.
Most of the kids here feel connected to the waterway because they’ve spent time “floating the Jig” and fishing or playing in the water.
“If we can get them to invest in their own community, that makes a lot more sense to them,” Oslik said.
Shawn Hardy is a reporter for Gannett’s Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania – Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro, and Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has over 35 years of journalism experience. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org