Nature Foundation St. Maarten, California Academy of Sciences meet with Minister of Education to discuss Science and Nature Education Project

Representatives of the Nature Foundation St. Maarten and the California Academy of Sciences visited the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, the honorable Drs. Rodolphe E. Samuel. The purpose of this meeting was to introduce the Minister to the St. Maarten Environmental Learning Seed Project, a new project born from the partnership between the Nature Foundation St. Maarten and the California Academy of Sciences.

The Environment Learning Seed Project is a pilot project that aims to figuratively plant a seed which will foster nature education and increased awareness of our incredible island biodiversity. It is expected that by planting this seed, our youth and by extension St. Maarten’s community will be more in touch with nature on the island and learn to make more environmentally conscious choices in their everyday lives. The Foundation hopes that this project, which is part of the California Academy of Science’s wide-scale Islands 2030 initiative, will be a stepping stone towards getting environmental education placed more permanently on the agenda.

The California Academy of Sciences, a natural history museum and research institution based in San Francisco, California, aims to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Academy scientists specialize in a wide range of natural sciences. The team that visited the island has begun work to document St. Maarten’s biodiversity with the intention to share this information with relevant authorities to assist in their environmental decision-making processes.

“We have all come to realize that climate change is real, but it is not yet common knowledge that it is directly connected to biodiversity loss and how humans have treated and are still treating mother earth. We hope that with more attention placed on environmental learning, we can start seeing a shift in awareness and values which will lead to adjusted human behavior and lasting positive changes in our environment” explained Eudoxia Williams-James Education Project Coordinator at the Nature Foundation St. Maarten.

The project is divided into multiple phases. In the first phase, a gap analysis is conducted to get a better understanding of what we are teaching and learning in classrooms and beyond, how we experience nature currently, what resources are used and needed, what is working well, and in which areas teachers and students need more support.

At this assessment stage of the project, listening sessions are conducted with key stakeholders such as educators, students, parents, community members and organizations. The information gathered will be used by the Nature Foundation in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences and local educators to “build on what is existing” through the development of learning resources that will be of value to schools. After analyzing the information gathered in the second phase, the team will be establishing commonalities and information gaps.

During the input and design phase, the Nature Foundation and the Academy will partner with local educators to co-create resources which will eventually become part of the schools’ learning materials. In the new academic year, a pilot phase of implementation will be initiated, and teachers can be supported via professional development workshops if needed.

Minister Samuel, who holds a degree in Environmental Biology and has done scientific research on local species in the past, expressed his support for this project and advised the joint partners that in addition to benchmarking where we are currently regarding environmental knowledge, it is also important to encourage the development of personal relationships between people and environment.

“Many on the island do not attribute certain values to nature,” said Minister Samuel, “because of their upbringing, their culture or the educational system followed. There should therefore be great focus on helping St. Maarten’s youth build a relationship and personalize their connection to the environment, because this will produce ownership and protection.” Minister Samuel also noted that although there have been many changes in our natural environment, there are still many untouched areas and there is a need to protect these areas.

All parties look forward to future collaborative efforts to educate St.Maarten’s youth and by extension the community at large.

Photo caption:
From left to right: Leslie Hickerson (Educational Outreach Officer Nature Foundation), Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern (Manager Nature Foundation), Lindzy Bivings (Senior Manager of School & Community Programs California Academy of Sciences), Honorable Minister Drs. Rodolphe Samuel (Minister ECYS), Eudoxia Williams-James (St. Maarten Islands 2030 Education Project Coordinator Nature Foundation), Dr. Lauren Esposito (Co-Director of the Islands 2030 Initiative and Curator of Arachnology California Academy of Sciences)