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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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RELEASE: 2/27/98
CONTACT: Sharon A. Southard or Amy Collings
(609) 984-1795 or (609) 292-2994


Environmental education. A new concept? Not for Tanya Oznowich, an environmental education specialist at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

She wants it everywhere. In the schools, in the community, at nature centers, in homes, in business and on the lips of every citizen in the state.

"For me, it's not really a new concept, just a new and different way of learning. It's a lot more, for instance, than just showing textbook pictures of aquatic insects to students in the classroom. It's about making nets and taking students and adults outdoors to a stream to catch these tiny creatures. I remember many times when I had to remind excited parents and student aides to share their nets with the students. Hands-on learning was not practiced when I and these other adults were growing up," said Oznowich.

Oznowich has spent more than 20 years in the field of environmental education, working on ways to effectively deliver environmental lessons to educators, students, parents, families and the public.

State Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn appointed her as his designee to the 29-member New Jersey Commission on Environmental Education in 1995. She spent two years working with committees at the Department of Education (DOE) to help develop environmental standards for Governor Whitman's new academic standards for grades (K-12) especially in the social studies, sciences and art. She successfully obtained a critique from 40 science professionals at DEP to assure that key science content standards were comprehensive and accurate. Currently, she is working with dozens of environmental education professionals to select potential environmental lessons to be taught in support of these standards.

More importantly, though, she helped the state achieve a significant first for New Jersey's school systems. Teachers will be required to teach environmental content and skills in the classroom and encourage environmental literacy.

To assist educators in learning how to integrate environmental education into the classroom, Oznowich recently obtained a $30,150 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a series of eight pilot workshops. The workshops will enable department staff to redesign and enhance

New Jersey by DEP-Project Learning Tree, Project WILD, Aquatic WILD, and the Wetlands Institute's Project WET.

"We will be using some real life situations from the environment and activities from these well-known books for teachers. We might ask teachers to work on projects involving measuring the slope of a hillside, drawing a map of the community, reducing school lunch waste, restoring flora and fauna to a local waste lot, researching an industrial process, or collecting and examining leaves and acquatic insects. These are all examples of how to make environmental education meaningful and fun," says Oznowich.

The grant will cover the pilot workshops and training programs. Each workshop will offer an activity guide with 50 to 90 activities which teachers may use as hands-on activities or incorporate into a course on the environment. Although the grant is for one year, DEP's newly improved environmental workshops will continue to benefit more than 800 teachers yearly. Those who complete a training course will be able to instruct other teachers.

Oznowich points out that bringing environmental teaching to an already busy classroom and to an already burdened teacher, is not always well received. She says lack of time, resources, training and knowledge often preclude teachers from even thinking that it can be worthwhile.

"Sound environmental education is a balanced, engaging, and interactive way of teaching,"she says. It's real-life learning. It can be as exciting as having the kids go outside and draw a map of the community or having them come inside and view a map of their community on a high-tech computer. What better way is there to nurture young citizens?"

A 10-year veteran at DEP, Oznowich was recently selected Environmental Educator of the Year by the New Jersey Education Association. She will be a panelist on an interactive television show discussing the integration of environmental education with the state's new academic standards. The program will be made into a video and available to schools throughout New Jersey.

"Studying our environment is simply examining a piece of reality. It takes place at a complex crossroad, where science and nature interface with history, culture, economics, politics, planning and development, industry, conservation and ethics," she says. "It's important that people of all ages understand these relationships and learn to manage, solve problems and make the best decisions possible, knowing that their actions or behaviors usually effect the environment in some way."

Oznowich is one of the founding members of the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education (ANJEE) where she has served as an advisor and officer for 13 years, and is a member of the North American Association for Environmental Education. She is currently an advisor to the New Jersey Geography Alliance and is the educational consultant to Partners for Environmental Quality.

She presently represents Commissioner Shinn on the New Jersey Commission for National and Community Service, hosted by DOE. The purpose of the commission is to oversee AmeriCorps and other national service programs in New Jersey. A primary focus is environmental action in the community and the recruitment of volunteers. Additionally, she is working on developing environmental education program models for volunteer, community service and service learning organizations to demonstrate ways that environmental study, protection and enhancement activities can benefit the environment while also improving a student's self-esteem, community awareness and inter-personal skills.

Oznowich has received numerous awards in the field of environmental education including the President's Award for Science Education from the New Jersey Science Supervisors Association in 1994 and the Environmental Education award from the NJ Audubon Society in 1993. She is the former president and former board member of the Youth Environmental Society.

"To me, the environment is like the multi-purpose room in my old elementary school. It's used as a cafeteria, band room, gymnasium and theater, all rolled into one. The same place with many uses. Bringing students outdoors or bringing the outdoors in often makes students more excited to learn. What a magical way to teach math, science and the environment."


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