Laura Oslik teaches her students they don’t know what they can achieve if they don’t try.
The Greencastle-Antrim High School science teacher applied that lesson to herself and earned an opportunity to attend the 11th World Environmental Education Congress in March, along with National Education Association Foundation funding to cover her trip to Prague in the Czech Republic.
“The WEEC congresses are the most significant existing experience of connecting all actors at the international level in the field of environmental education,” according to the congress’ website.
Oslik joined educators, government officials, representatives of businesses and international organizations and others from around the world March 14 to 18 in Prague. The NEAF funding also allowed her fellow G-AHS science teacher Zeke Flores to attend virtually.
The theme of the congress was “Building Bridges in Times of Climate Urgency” and it featured sessions, field trips, discussion and webinars with experts from around the world.
Parallel characteristics:Core competencies for graduates OK’d by Greencastle-Antrim School Board
Kids connect with seniors:Greencastle-Antrim students fill gift bags for Heritage Hills Retirement Community
“It also works to promote active, informed and responsible citizenship as a condition for a more peaceful, fair and ecological human society, to guarantee an equitable access to natural resources, and a harmonious relationship among human beings, other living beings and the planet,” according to the website.
The peaceful aim of the gathering played out against a backdrop of the war in Ukraine. The WEEC was based at the Prague Congress Centre, where the first floor has been turned into a refugee intake center. When she arrived for registration, Oslik saw Ukrainian women and children with suitcases.
“People were pouring in everywhere, it was happening around us,” she said. During interactive art sessions, congress-goers made images of support in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag, which were displayed in the windows and eventually given to the refugees.
Every person who spoke mentioned the conflict, all saying something like “We cannot live in a sustainable world where these kinds of attacks on democracy exist,” Oslik said.
From Greencastle to the Czech Republic
“I feel like I’m in a district that wants teachers to grow,” Oslik said. Teachers are encouraged to think about what they need and what they want to learn.
For Oslik that meant more professional development in her specific field – environmental education – and saw the WEEC as meaningful to herself, her district, her school and her students.
“The more I looked at it, the more I wanted to go for it,” she recalled. That included paying for the trip and Oslik admitted she had slim hopes for the NEAF grant. She credits application help from fellow G-AHS teacher Meagan Brockway and the support of Caroline Royer, G-A business manager, with her success.
For many people, the thought of traveling alone to Eastern Europe would be daunting, but Oslik has strong ties to the region. Her husband, Miroslav Oslik is from Slovakia, and she lived and taught there for two years early in her career. She’s traveled extensively in Europe and visited Prague several times before.
The former Laura Lindgren grew up in Waynesboro, graduated from Shippensburg University in 2008 and spent one term as a long-term substitute in Greencastle before heading overseas. She and her husband married in 2010, have three children and live in Waynesboro, where he teaches special education at the high school.
Oslik, who also holds a master’s degree from Wilkes University, has been in a G-AHS classroom for 12 years. Her classes have included anatomy and physiology, science enrichment and biology, but she mainly teaches environmental science now.
Environmental education in the classroom and beyond
Her time at WEEC equipped her with lots of ideas, not just for her high school science classroom, but the entire school district. Oslik, in person, and Flores, online, could only attend a fraction of the sessions that were offered, but have online access to videos from the congress for a year. They can also create networks by continuing to interact with presenters and other participants.
Oslik’s expectations of WEEC took into account the competencies the school board adopted early in 2021 to fulfill the district’s “Portrait of a Graduate.” The competencies are critical thinking and social responsibility; creativity and innovation; literacy and communication; physical and emotional health; and general knowledge and academic preparation.
“I knew what I was hoping to get,” Oslik said. “I got that and so much more.”
She learned about the European approach to sustainability education, which incorporates many of the same competencies as G-A cultivates in its graduates.
One panel discussion was about the quick turn to virtual instruction due to COVID-19 and its consequences. Some said the instant access to information is good, but others talked about the shift from being surrounded by the whole environment to focusing on one device.
Another great session was about why nature is important to 21st century students. Oslik said the G-A School District already places value on and has opportunities for students to go outside. She explained studies show kids who take risks when they are young, such as jumping from rock to rock, are less likely to injure themselves later in life.
Exposing students to the outdoors will give them an ingrained sense that the natural world is important, and they will feel connected to it at an early age.
Oslik garnered information on transdisciplinary opportunities so “we can live on this earth as long as possible without running out of resources.”
She’s already talking with fellow G-A teachers and plans to offer them professional development about how sustainability can be incorporated across disciplines.
It can be as easy as asking students in math class how many acorns are in a tree to get kids thinking about the world around them.
She would also like to see more experiential learning. Once example would be studying the Conococheague Creek for things like water quality and sedimentation.
Most kids around here feel connected to the waterway because they spent time “floating the Jig” and fishing or playing in the water.
“If we can get them to invest in their own community, it has a lot more meaning for them,” Oslik said.
Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett’s Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at [email protected]