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August 29, 2003

For More Information, Contact:
Daryl Savage at (650) 688-6384


PALO ALTO –The opportunity for children from low-income families to learn basic geometry while sailing at sea is just one of several outdoor education opportunities that may get a boost under legislation poised for passage in the California State Legislature. Assembly Bill 1330 establishes the California Outdoor Environmental Education Program, which provides a mechanism for private funding of such programs and an evaluation of program effectiveness.

Assemblyman Joe Simitian’s Outdoor Environmental Education bill creates a unique opportunity for underserved school kids. It encourages them to learn by experiencing the outdoors.

“The goal is simple. Give students an opportunity to learn the importance of ecology in protecting our natural resources. Let them sail a ship, or go backpacking in the hills. Let them understand the connection between the science of ecology and the world around them,” Simitian said.

Simitian’s proposal to establish the California Outdoor Environmental Education Program marks the first time in California that outdoor education programs will be systematically developed, privately funded, and then studied for their impact on student behavior and learning.

“The beauty of this bill is that it comes at absolutely no expense to the state,” Simitian said. The roughly quarter of a million dollars in seed funding will come from private sources.

The goals of outdoor education are not only simple, “the kids love it,” according to Connie Martinez, Executive Director of the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose. “We’ve been offering programs like this for several years. We’ve seen how the kids react. It works,” Martinez said.

“When you engage children in real science that has relevance within their community and a context that they can understand, it touches them and creates long lasting results. Assemblyman Simitian is on the right track with this,” she said.

An East Palo Alto non-profit youth group also knows first-hand that these programs work. Gary Whitehouse, youth development director of New Perspectives, organizes outings for students in the East Palo Alto/East Menlo Park areas, with the help of funding from the Sierra Club, and hopes to participate in the new Outdoor Environmental Education Program.

“We just got back from backpacking in Mount Shasta. We saw snow. A lot of these kids have never seen snow before,” Whitehouse said, adding that outdoor education programs can change kids’ lives. “It gives them time to reflect and see new possibilities about what they want to do when they grow up,” he said.

Simitian’s Outdoor Environmental Education Program anticipates four initial programs, all of which will enable students to develop an appreciation of the diversity of California’s natural environment through hands-on outdoor experiences. Simitian’s legislation will examine the impact of these environmental programs to see which programs work and which do not.

“Although there have been similar programs before, there have never been any meaningful evaluations. Now, for the first time, we have techniques in place that will test the successes of this program, enabling them to be documented and replicated,” Simitian said.

Simitian’s outdoor education bill, which is sponsored by the Sierra Club, will be administered by the State Department of Education upon passage.