Santa Cruz County Office of Education is committed to advancing environmental literacy in our county. We are gathering tools and resources to support districts and schools and seek to serve as a hub for stakeholders to join together with a common vision. 

Hands extended holding acorns

What is Environmental Literacy and how can it support other core content area instruction?

See our Tools for Green Schools page for our GREEN SCHOOLS WORKING GROUP resources, toolkits, family resources, research on the benefits of Green Schoolyards and more.

Sunset over the ocean. Photo by Jessica Devnani.

Climate Education is a key component of NGSS

An environmental literacy lens can support curriculum and instruction, facilities management, and student engagement and health. See the links below for select resources that can help schools leverage environmental education opportunities.

PRACTICAL RESOURCES FOR TAKING SCHOOL OUTSIDE DURING THE PANDEMIC AND BEYOND. Outdoor learning spaces are a cost-effective way to increase instructional space while providing fresh air, hands-on learning opportunities, and the mental and physical health benefits associated with increased access to natural spaces.

This website houses a free online resource library, designed to help schools and districts move their classes and programs outside not only as a way to address the COVID-19 pandemic — but also as an investment in the future of a richer educational environment for children of all ages. 

Research shows academic and other benefits for students who participate in environmental education programs, whether on the school grounds or off-site with community partners. 

Three 5th grade girls looking excitedly at a newt. Photo credit: Amity Sandage

The study provides a summary of improved academic performance resulting from environmental education. Studies included these findings: 

• Students performed better on standardized mathematics assessments  

• Schools with environmental education consistently outperformed other schools on state standardized tests in math, reading, writing, and listening

• Students performed better, on average, on the state science assessment

• Students scored significantly higher on measures of critical thinking skills  

• In a two year garden-based program, the number of failing students decreased substantially, and the dropout rate was reduced from an initial 30 percent to zero in some years

Experts at Stanford University systematically analyzed the academic literature and 119 peer-reviewed studies published over a 20-year period that measured the impacts of environmental education for K-12 students. The review found clear evidence that environmental education programs provide a variety of benefits.  

• Knowledge gains across multiple disciplines, including environmental issues, science, mathematics, and more 

• Emotional and social skills, such as self-esteem, character development, team work, and leadership skills 

• Environmentally friendly behavior, such as reducing water use, increasing recycling, and participating in community cleanups 

• Academic skills (21ST Century skills), such as critical thinking, oral communication, analytical skills, problem solving, and higher-order thinking 

• Motivation to learn, including enthusiasm for and interest in school

 • Civic interest and engagement, including feelings of civic responsibility, feelings of empowerment, and ability to take action 

See other studies on the benefits of environmental education at our Research page.

Schools with outdoor learning spaces, gardens and natural areas provide more equitable access to environmental education and build students' connection to nature and sense of place.

School girl swinging on bars. Photo by Matthew Henry

The Center for Green Schools: Green schools strive to achieve success in three pillars. They teach students how to lead a changing world, and they support student understanding by modeling sustainable behavior through green operations and building practices. 

The three pillars of the Green Ribbon Schools Award: Environmental impact, healthy school environments and environmental education

Green Ribbon Schools and CA Green Ribbon Schools awards recognize schools for success in three pillars: reducing environmental impact and costs; improving health and wellness of students and staff; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education 

Little boy holding an adults hand. Photo credit: Matthew Henry

See our Community Partners page for a searchable database of environmental programs to support your district and school goals.

Graphic showing tree graphic with parts of district plan

Wondering how a school district can include environmental goals in District goals?

Check out Encinitas School Board's approach: 

Grant opportunities are also listed on the Awards and Grants page.

ESSA Funding and EE

The Every Student Succeeds Act includes language making environmental education and environmental literacy programs explicitly eligible for federal education funds for the very first time. 

The key language is found in Title IV of the bill: