Photo Credit: Lauren Bailey

  

A. Introduction of Education as a  Service      

Economic progress is not possible without natural resources.  Therefore, showing people how to value and respect their environment through education is imperative to maintaining sustainable development.  It has been suggested that the greatest and most depressing problem in conservation is not habitat loss or over-exploitation but the human indifference to such problems (Balmford, 1999).  This is why education is such an important ecosystem service.     

The International Lake Environment Committee (ILEC) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) agree that the public’s lack of knowledge about their impact on lakes significantly contributes to their degradation.  Providing educational services about lakes encourages interest in and awareness of conservation issues, brings about specific changes in attitudes regarding the lake, spreads knowledge and builds community (Sutherland, 2000).     

The following external benefits to implementing strong educational services in a watershed have been identified in the Lake Basin Management Initiative’s study of 32 lakes, titled “The Role of Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) in Lake Basin Management” published in 2004:     

  • Wetland issues can increasingly become part of the business of other sectors and not just that of the environment, thereby mainstreaming the conservation and wise use of wetlands into society and government.
  • Communities use resources sustainably as a result of engagement and agreement to collaborative plans, thereby reducing conflict.
  • Communities agree to invest in restoration and long-term stewardship of wetlands.
  • There is a public constituency that speaks for and helps set the agenda for wetland conservation and wise use.

    

Education is a process that can inform, motivate and empower people to support conservation, not only by inducing lifestyle changes, but also by fostering changes in the way that individuals, institutions, business and governments operate (D’Cruz, 2004).     

Watershed management is voluntary, making education essential to build awareness and interest amongst stakeholders and potential investors (Smith, 2008). There are three divisions of watershed education: public education (elementary through high school), higher education (college), and community outreach.     

Statewide governmental regulation of public education that includes standards and expectations involving a basic understanding of ecosystem function, service and value are building blocks that help to cultivate involvement and interest in the watershed.  In the United States, approximately 89% of students currently attend public schools (NCES, 2009).  All public school systems have minimum science requirements in place and many include sections on the environment, which are usually specific to each geographic location. State funded colleges and universities can also regulate educational standards.     

Higher education can play a key role in the overall process of achieving sustainability by making ecological education an academic focus of the institution.  The International Association of Universities emphasizes the responsibility institutions have to provide this education to students.   Community education is not regulated but can be funded and be targeted at any age level.  Often it focuses on children who have not entered the education system yet and adults who have finished their traditional educational careers but still seek a certain degree of awareness.  These programs are specific to each ecosystem.  The Great Lakes Legacy Act allocates $1 million annually for public outreach and education (EPA, 2002).     

B. Education as a Service Through Lake Champlain     

To the naked eye, Lake Champlain is a beautiful and thriving lake.  However, it is also battling the strains of development, agriculture, recreation and transportation that lead to high phosphorus levels, invasive species, and pollution.  Without educating the people of the Lake Champlain Watershed about these issues they will have no hope of resolution.     

Many organizations recognize the importance of supporting education in the community and joined together in 2003 to show thier support.  Champlain 2000 is a partnership with local NBC affiliate WPTZ NewsChannel 5 that helps spread awareness and keeps citizens up to date on the lake’s current issues through the “Champlain Connection” and “Special Reports” series.  KeyBank’s partnership is a good source of revenue and support.  The briefing done by CEPA notes that while Organizational Support Grants have done a lot to build capacity, this kind of support has to be sustained to make real progress.     

The fact that Lake Champlain is nestled between VT, NY and Quebec was identified as an impediment to maintaining educational consistency.  Even with grants, it is hard to maintain a sizable enough staff to carry out educational projects.  The Lake Champlain Education and Outreach Committee helps educate the public on issues facing the Lake, publicize activities occurring in the Basin and gather input from citizens of the Basin.  The EPA braches in Boston and New York recognize the educational benefits of this committee and have been funding them for 20 years, (USGS, 2009).     

Museums are a great resource for community outreach.  The ECHO Museum’s educational programs strive to inspire people of all ages to consider the implications of science in their lives, to find relevance in newfound knowledge, and to apply their ECHO experience towards ongoing environmental stewardship.  The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has educational programs to suit every age and learning objective, from on-site education in classroom settings to guided boating adventures.  Both of these major New England museums create a lot of revenue and tourism.     

Colleges and Universities in the watershed use the lake as an educational resource. The National Sea Grant College Program is currently partnered with the New York Sea Grant Institute, the University of Vermont, and     

UVM lab group aboard the Melosira
Photo Credit: Elise Schindler

Plattsburgh State University.  The Grant funds research, education and extension pertaining to hydrological, biological, physical and geological characteristics and problems that are similar or related to the Great Lakes, (USGS, 2009).  The Rubenstien School of the Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont owns a research and teaching vessel, the Melosira.     

The state has certain education standards that promote education about the basin for elementary through middle school students in the subjects of Systems, Organisms, Evolution & Interdependence, and Natural Resources & Agriculture:     

  • S9-12:35; Students demonstrate their understanding of food webs in an ecosystem
  • S9-12:36; Students demonstrate their understanding of equilibrium in an ecosystem
  • S9-12:37; Students demonstrate their understanding of recycling in an ecosystem
  • S9-12:49; Students demonstrate their understanding of processes and change within natural resources

    

These minimums allow for public schools to focus on anything and with Lake Champlain being so close, many schools turn to the abundance of educational opportunities it offers.  The University of Vermont, for example offers courses focusing on Lake Champlain and the basin through the forestry, geology, natrual resources, environmental studies, environmental science, plant and soil science and history departments.  These courses are all listed and described in the UVM course catalogue.    

C. Connecting Structure to Function to Value:     

The size and geography of Lake Champlain in particular allow it to function as a fantastically as an educational resource. As far as lakes go, Lake Champlain offers essentially the same ecosystem services and is threatened by the same types of human activities and human created problems, but it is in size and geography that Lake Champlain is unique. Because Lake Champlain is so big and touches so many different populations of people (New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Canada), its ability to be used for the purposes of education increase.     

The reason for this is that any issue across the lake can be studied from a variety of angles and perspectives. For example, an issue with water cleanliness can be studied from the University of Vermont and SUNY Plattsburgh independent of each other and different solutions to the same problem can be tried, studied and revised. Or, these two universities can pool their resources and data and tackle the problem together. Either way educational value is increased. The converse benefit to this is that sometimes the lake is so big that there will be different educational opportunities on one section of the lake that do not exist in another. These educational opportunities can be studied in the context of small picture or else be tied back into the larger setting of the Lake Champlain Basin. Lake Champlain truly holds tremendous value on an educational level.     

D. Data on Structure, Function, and Value:     

      

It is no coincidence that one of the nation’s higher education leaders in the environmental field is the University of Vermont, which overlooks Lake Champlain, and whose student’s education no matter what the field is nearly always connected back to the lake.  Grants given to students through UVM are able to fund education through research and conservation.  The Lake Champlain Waldorf School, located near Shelburne Bay, gives their 300 kindergarden through high school aged students a more holistic education than traditional public schools in the area with a strong focus on the lake as an ecosystem.  Public high schools in the area, like Champlian Valley Union High School, do also spend time learning about the lake basin through field trips.    

For environmental and science students in particular, Lake Champlain is very often the main link between the book value of education and the application of that education in the real world. Lake Champlain is their training ground.  Nor was it by chance that the prestigious Champlain College was named after Lake Champlain. These are but two of a large number of colleges and universities in the Lake Champlain Basin that find ways to utilize the educational value of Lake Champlain. Aside from higher education, important community centers like the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum are important examples and reminders of the positive educational force that Lake Champlain is to everybody living in the Lake Champlain Basin.  ECHO reports a daily attendance of approximately 1,000 people in the summer and around 300 in the winter on average.  These people come from all around New England and often times even farther because ECHO is a tourist destination.  The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is only open from May to October but also has a high and diverse attendance rate.    

The educational value of Lake Champlain extends far beyond educational boundaries. Centers of education like those named above draw in people from around the country and globe to study in Lake Champlain Basin communities.This influx of students creates an enormous economic stimulus to these local communities. Students bring their combined capital, knowledge, experience, and ingenuity to revitalize Lake Champlain communities during their academic stays in the Lake Champlain Basin. During the course of their study, these students do important work, research and studies to further improve the Lake Champlain Basin and improve our knowledge of the vital resource that is Lake Champlain. When these students finish their educations many of them decide to stay in the Lake Champlain Basin, where they continue to constantly improve their new communities economically, ecologically and culturally by being educated, contributing members to vibrant communities around the lake.     

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