Rural communities in Puerto Rico’s central region face yearly challenges as the climate-fueled hurricane season endangers their health and safety. In 2017, access to clean, safe drinking water was problematic after Hurricane Maria, a category five storm, devastated communities throughout the island. Post-hurricane environmental contamination remains an ongoing concern. Environmental education (EE) could be a community-empowering tool as it builds a path to promote health equity and environmental justice through a community mobilization lens. This project aimed to establish a one-year EE program for minority, low-income communities in an isolated, underserved area of Puerto Rico that fosters student and community engagement in disaster preparedness related to environmental protection and human health.
MCN developed an EE community-adapted curriculum for educators of four schools located in Castañer (1), and Adjuntas (3). We facilitated an 8-hour workshop for teachers, community leaders, and community outreach personnel from the Hospital General Castañer (HGC), a local community health center. Alongside HGC, we supported teachers as they integrated EE content into their school curriculum to educate secondary students in Health and Science classes. After integrating the curriculum, we planned community impact activities where students provided emergency preparedness information focused on safe water and chemical safety, environmental conservation, recycling, reforestation, and gardening. During these activities, the students exhibited the work developed in class to the community, distributing materials to encourage environmental conservation and emergency preparedness, and unveiling the development of a group of young environmental stewards in their community.
The outcomes expected were:
1) increased access to EE resources and programs,
2) increased environmental knowledge among students, educators, and community leaders as measured through a level 2 evaluation,
3) increased empowerment and skills in environmental stewardship measured through environmental stewardship criteria per class activity,
4) partnerships established among community leaders, CHC’s, and schools to address disaster preparedness,
5) increased community participation to improve protection of human health and the environment as it relates to disaster preparedness and response,
6) increased ability among students and community to think critically about environmental issues and decisions that affect human health and the environment in terms of disaster preparedness and response.
Many challenges along the way
After our difficult yet successful completion of this project, we were able to achieve all our expected outcomes. Participant students successfully created, provided, and had increased access to environmental education materials, all participants exhibited an increase of knowledge (8% collaborators/partners; 20% students), and the class activities successfully provided empowerment and capacity building opportunities in community environmental stewardship among students. Partnerships with local CHC’s, community leaders, community workers or promotores, local organizations, national organizations, national environmental leaders and environmental education organizations were successfully established by collaboration on project activities. We hope to further see outcomes 4 and 5 become a stronger reality after the end of this project, as emergencies and disasters are yearly exposures for this communities with serious health and safety implications.
An EE program that fosters student and community engagement in disaster preparedness and environmental conservation is a tool that could provide increased community environmental literacy and stewardship, providing opportunities of human and environmental health and safety protection when our communities need it most.
Developing Young Conservation & Emergency Management Community Leaders at School
EPA Environmental Education Project - Poster