Nurturing Inclusivity in Environmental Education

Along with building critical thinking skills and improving academic achievement, environmental education enhances connections with nature and encourages future environmental stewardship. In addition, time outdoors benefits children’s development through increased physical activity and improved mental health. With support from the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation, educators are ensuring that our most vulnerable youth – including those involved with the foster and justice systems and those with disabilities – are able to benefit from high-quality outdoor learning.

Kid on outdoor trail

For example, through its annual PEAKS Camp, the Texas Network for Youth Services facilitates meaningful connections to nature for youth involved in the child welfare system. Taking a personalized approach, TNOYS collaborates with these youth and young adults, including previous PEAKS campers, to ensure that the camp curricula and associated outdoor activities resonate with their lived experiences while providing opportunities for environmental education.

St. Edward’s University’s Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve in central Texas is enhancing its environmental education offerings to serve youth in foster care. Through a partnership with Foster Village, a nonprofit resource center for caregivers of youth involved in the child welfare system, Wild Basin will host and evaluate outdoor education events led by staff and volunteers trained in trauma-informed practices, facilitating hands-on learning and guided nature hikes for youth and their foster families.

Austin-based Partners for Education, Agriculture & Sustainability has forged a partnership with the Rosedale School, an Austin ISD campus that serves students with disabilities and special needs, to develop a specialized environmental education curriculum and create an accompanying outdoor learning space. With expertise in special education, PEAS will train school staff to deliver the program and, once piloted, share the curriculum with peer schools serving similar populations.

Candlelight Ranch collaborates with over 35 nonprofits and school districts to provide free or low-cost environmental education programming to students with differing abilities, those with special needs, and those involved in the child welfare system. The expansive ranch grounds, located on the north shore of Lake Travis, feature accessible facilities and amenities such as a wheelchair-friendly zip line. According to Executive Director Jenn Hartner, “we are thrilled to expand access to environmental education to children and families of all abilities and needs in central Texas. Our hope is that we are instilling a love of nature and that our campers and volunteers will want to go home and replicate these experiences in their communities.”