A meeting today kicks off the process of drafting a new five-year master plan for environmental education in Kentucky.

Every five years since 1999, Kentucky has re-tooled its master plans laying out how environmental education should be taught in the commonwealth. The plan is meant to help educators understand how the environment can be used to teach students across multiple disciplines—not just science, but also subjects like language arts and math.

“It’s really about teaching kids how to think, not what to think and engaging them in solving problems at a local level and feeling empowered to do that,” says Elizabeth Schmitz, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Education Council.

In conjunction with the master plan, the council also conducts a survey to gauge Kentuckians’ environmental literacy and attitudes about environmental issues. This year, respondents marked water pollution as one of the most pressing environmental problems for Kentucky, followed by air pollution and coal and strip mining. Schmitz says the goal of the master plan is to help teachers understand how they can teach about all of those challenging issues in an unbiased way.

For example: When it comes to issues like climate change, environmental education would focus on the science, she says.

“Our goal would be to have students first understand the science of how climate works and have that very concrete scientific understanding,” she said. “Students really aren’t in a position to understand the complex social components of that issue until they understand the science.”

The KEEC is a state agency within the commonwealth’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. Schmitz says the master plan will make recommendations of ways K-12 and university educators can improve environmental literacy, and how to best reach the commonwealth’s adults. 

The first public meeting soliciting input for the master plan is at 1 p.m. today at Locust Trace AgriScience Farm at 3591 Leestown Road in Lexington. Meetings will be held in August around the state; the council will be in Louisville at 1 p.m. on August 19 at Jefferson Community and Technical College’s downtown campus (Health Science Hall, Room 151A).

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.