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Why It Matters

People need nature. Nature is the source of our food, water and the air we breathe. A healthy environment is directly tied to our survival and well-being. It is only with a solid understanding of how our natural systems work, that people can work together to protect nature and act as earth's future champions.

Environmental Literacy

While 95% of U.S. adults support environmental education in schools, a stunning 80% of adults are influenced by incorrect or outdated environmental myths. Only 2% of U.S. adults can pass a basic quiz testing understanding of energy topics. Very few adults, let alone children, understand how to tackle the environmental problems of our present and future.

Just as language literacy is critical for leading a productive, secure life so is environmental literacy.  At Riverbend, we work to develop environmental literacy that is grounded in science, using tested education tools. This, we believe, is essential for citizens seeking to live in and care for a world with vast challenges, whether the issues be drought, flooding or basic food security.

Understanding our environment through nature-based science is an important goal of K-12 education. For all of us, appreciating the natural world and our place in it is critical for ensuring healthy communities and protecting the very systems that sustain us. It is imperative to equip students and learners of all ages with the understandings and habits of mind needed to shape and adapt to the world in which we all live.

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Nature-Based STEM Education

Direct experiences with nature provide relevant learning that equips students with critical thinking, creative approaches, and problem-solving skills.

WHY STEM? STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education is an interdisciplinary and inquiry-based method of learning. It goes beyond the mere transfer of knowledge; it creates connections between school learning, the community, and the world beyond. Riverbend delivers STEM programs that utilize nature as the foundation of learning. When nature-based curriculum is used, students are three times more likely to find the material interesting and create lasting memories.

Both nationally and in Pennsylvania, the focus has been to increase STEM proficiency at the high school and post-secondary levels. As Riverbend works with school districts in our region, we see a need to direct effective STEM resources all the way down through elementary school. Grades K-5 are a critical period in which student interest can either be deeply engaged or lost in respect to science and technology. Students who have positive experiences through high-quality science teaching and who have opportunities to participate in hands-on science are the ones most likely to pursue STEM paths.

Riverbend strives each year to take our inquiry-based science programs to the next level, transforming the way teachers teach and students learn environmental education.

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Aquaponics is an agricultural technique in which both fish and plants are raised together in a closed-loop ecosystem. Fish waste is converted to food by beneficial bacteria, thereby feeding the growing plants. The plants in turn, clean and filter the water that is returned to the fish environment.

For Riverbend, aquaponics is as a key vehicle for building STEM skills for students.  It is those skills that can lay the foundation for future academic and career success. Inquiry-based science learning is a hallmark of Riverbend’s peer-reviewed aquaponics curriculum in which students guided by their teachers grow edible plants and fish in 20-gallon classroom systems. Though still in its early stages, aquaponics is widely determined to be among the most sustainable agriculture methods, using just 10% of the water required by traditional agriculture. With an estimated human world population of more than 9 billion people by 2050, experts predict water and food scarcity to be increasingly common. This makes aquaponics an especially timely topic!

Riverbend received the Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Excellence and other awards for Building STEM Skills through Aquaponics!

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Nature’s Benefits

An ever-growing body of research demonstrates what many of us have known all along – nature is good for kids and people of all ages! Nature improves our. . .

  • Emotions by reducing stress and aggression. It can increase our confidence and can improve our mental health.

  • Thinking by promoting creativity, problem-solving, the ability to focus, and self-discipline.

  • Physical Health when we play and engage in outdoor activity. We combat obesity, boost our immune system, increase our energy level, improve sleep, and reduce symptoms of ADHD.

  • Social Capacity through meaningful contact with nature that can foster cooperation, adaptability, and self-awareness.

  • Academic Abilities through hands-on learning.  Inquiry-based environmental education results in better science test scores for students. Nature-based learning can even improve performance in reading, writing, and math.

Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” and founded the Children & Nature Network. The idea is that the more high-tech we become, the more nature we WILL need for our well-being and success. The future, Louv says, will belong to those he calls “nature-smart… those who develop a deeper understanding of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real.” At Riverbend, programming is holistic to maximize the full range of human benefits.

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