AshleyBy: Ashley Bryant Cheney
Bluegrass Greensource
Environmental Educator

At Bluegrass Greensource, we love summer. It’s a time to take part in environmental educational activities outside of the walls of the classroom, to recharge, and reflect about the next year’s cycle of education programs. I’ve spent part of mine at Lansdowne Elementary School, helping, perhaps surprisingly, students with their ESL (English as a Second Language) Summer Camp.

Through the summer break, Lansdowne Elementary hosts students working on their English skills. The majority of the students are refugees from 4 countries, including Nepal, Syria, Iraq, and the Congo. In addition to refugee students, Lansdowne also invited Hispanic students from Mexico and Venezuela who needed the added language support.

You may be asking, what does Environmental Education have to do with ESL? Using Content-Based Instruction (CBI), Environmental Educators use environmental topics to help students develop the language skills they need to be successful: vocabulary, conversation, listening, and even writing skills. Incorporating environmental topics into language learning not only teaches students new words and concepts, but also helps cultivate a sense of personal responsibility that extends outside of the classroom. Many themes and topics can spark the interest of young language learners, but topics of environmental conservation and care stretch across all cultures.

Environmentally friendly actions naturally lend themselves to meaningful language use. While it may not appear that teaching recycling promotes language practice, discussions about basic recycling leads the class to discussions of the practical differences between materials (paper vs. paper towels) and shapes (plastic bottle vs. plastic cup). When students have the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice, they are more likely to remember the language they have learned just by walking to the recycling bin in their classroom.

Students at Lansdowne ESL Summer Camp have already learned the names of different materials (such as cardboard and plastic) associated with recycling, but they have also learned some other basic environmental concepts, including the parts and functions of trees and worms, how solar power works, animal habitats, and even the macroinvertebrates (which was a new word for everyone) living in our Kentucky rivers and streams.

My favorite part of this camp is how learning about the environment can help children feel more at home in a region that may feel strange or new to them. It’s my hope as an educator that these new language skills and concepts will empower them to make small changes in their everyday lives that have a big impact in our local environment.