A vision for equitable access to the outdoors for New Mexico kids

In January, Environmental Education of New Mexico (EENM) released its “Every Kid, Every Day, Every Way” strategy for outdoor and environmental learning, with clear recommendations that will help achieve equitable access to the outdoors for all New Mexico kids.

The plan has been developed by leveraging three years of community conversations, with input from more than 200 individuals from 90 different organizations, agencies and schools. EENM’s 17 paid Fellows have also been closely involved in developing the plan.

The long-term goals of the EENM plan are that every New Mexico child will have access to the outdoors and environmental learning; that New Mexico’s children are supported in daily experiences outdoors, in both in-school and out-of-school experiences; and to identify and promote the variety of approaches that help connect kids with the outdoors. These connections include, but are not limited to, conservation, experiential, environmental, land-based, nature-based and place-based education.

A few of the key recommendations of the plan include:

• Establish an Office of Outdoor and Environmental Education at the state level to support teachers and school staff. Embed outdoor ambassadors in every school district and, ultimately, at every school.

• Develop a network of outdoor gear, “plus” libraries to support kids, families and community members.

• Restructure requirements and resources for pre-service and in-service teachers to include an “introduction to Outdoor Learning,” along with financing and support for teachers for ongoing professional development annually.

For more than 25 years, EENM has been “boots on the ground” in realizing the success of outdoor learning and environmental education. We currently support over 150 organizations that offer outdoor programming to 200,000 New Mexico kids annually, groups such as the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center, which leads ecological science programs on-site for all 5th-graders in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho public schools, the Valencia Soil & Water Conservation District, New Mexico Highlands University and many others.

EENM is a strong supporter of the New Mexico Office of Outdoor Recreation and of the Outdoor Equity Fund, both of which are working to expand the outdoor recreation economy – and access to the outdoors – to every corner of New Mexico, and bring jobs, prosperity and wellness to all state residents. Every Kid, Every Day, Every Way provides clear directions and strategies for the Office of Outdoor Recreation and other state agencies developed from communities representing such interconnected interests as outdoor recreation, education, conservation and environmental justice.

The announcement of EENM’s comprehensive outdoor education road map comes at the same time that Wild Friends, a student civics group organized by the University of New Mexico, introduced Senate Memorial 1, requesting the establishment of a task force to promote the use of outdoor classrooms in New Mexico, in partnership with EENM. This measure, which has been passed by the Legislature, is in direct alignment with Every Kid, Every Day, Every Way.

EENM worked with Wild Friends to draft the memorial, which was sponsored by Senator Siah Correa Hemphill (D-Silver City).

In October 2020, EENM created The New Mexico Outdoor Learning Guidance for 2020-21 School Reentry, adopted by the New Mexico Public Education Department, along with a new website, “Outdoor Learning in New Mexico during Covid-19: Resources and Support for the 2020-2021 School Year,” designed to support parents, families, teachers and administrators across the state in the implementation of outdoor learning at home, in communities and at school during and after COVID-19.

EENM is strongly poised to provide leadership for getting kids outside because of its robust collaboration with many organizations that have been providing outdoor and environmental education across the state to 200,000 children annually, with the goal to reach all New Mexico children.

For more information, go to www.eenm.org.

Eileen Everett is executive director of Environmental Education of New Mexico.

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