Kindergarten through 12th-grade students will receive new teachings on the environment in North Carolina schools following updated curriculum plans from the NC Department of Environmental Quality in conjunction with Earth Day.

The Environmental Literacy Plan was initially created in 2010 to promote a deeper understanding of environmental topics and provide the skills needed to participate in the environmental decision-making process. The plan offers schools and nonformal educators guidance for increasing environmental literacy and preparing students for their futures.

“The Environmental Literacy Plan is a roadmap for increasing environmental understanding and preparing students for STEM careers,” said DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser.  “Lincoln Heights is a successful model of the schools exemplified in the Plan and the perfect place to celebrate Earth Day and the release of the updated plan.”

Supported by the Department of Public Instruction and the nonprofit Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC), the curriculum is melded into existing coursework rather than adding additional work for teachers. The goals include strengthening environmental literacy to prepare students for future challenges and careers, increasing teacher knowledge of environmental education, and expanding funding for environmental efforts.

The plan is intended to be a nonpartisan education program without advocacy for specific environmental policy actions. However, the new update emphasizes the ‘existential’ problems children face today and highlights the pressing issues of climate change and the role environmental justice and equity play in solving these problems.

“To thrive and prosper, North Carolina’s students must gain the skills and knowledge to make informed, equitable, and effective decisions about environmental issues,” the plan states. “We can equip North Carolina’s students with the knowledge to solve the existential environmental problems they face and future generations face.”

DEQ notes that the plan aligns with global sustainability goals, citing the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Environmental education in North Carolina must be equitable and inclusive[…] The Environmental Literacy Plan emphasizes the need for equitable investment in environmental education and literacy.”

The effort came the same day Maryland’s top officials called for environmental literacy to empower youth in the ‘face of climate change.’ While North Carolina’s DEQ is working with a nonprofit environmental group to further student climate education, Maryland is also coordinating efforts with a local nonprofit. The education initiative appears to be growing across the nation, with school districts in California, Florida, and Virginia promoting recent efforts as well.

With only a third of students reading at grade level across the nation, student proficiency remains an ongoing concern. Student reading literacy is a priority state Superintendent Catherine Truitt has focused on through Operation Polaris 2.0.

During a Moms for Liberty event in Raleigh last week, speakers warned that literacy rates for reading and speaking could likely trend downward in the years ahead because phonological processing skills weren’t being acquired by young children during the COVID-19 emergency due to impediments like masks and separation.

“That is really going to start showing up. Well, it already is showing up, actually. It’s going to start showing up with our literacy rates even more and more as we go on,” said Susie Cole, an instructor with the National Institute of Learning & Development.