Imagine a scenario where children everywhere are educated about the role they play in building a more sustainable world. This is the vision of Sprout Up, an environmental education organization founded at UC Santa Barbara under the name Environmental Education for the Next Generation (EENG). Under Sprout Up’s guidance, these new leaders are being created one classroom at a time.
Sprout Up is in the middle of week long competition aimed at securing $1,000,000, which would enable them to launch Sprout Up projects across the country. Vote for Sprout Up here through Tuesday, Dec. 4th, 2012 to help put them over the top!
The following article appeared in the first edition of LoaLiving Magazine, featuring EENG’s founder, Ryland King, and his efforts at building this unique organization from the ground up.
Ryland King seems like a typical California college kid. He surfs. He’s into the outdoors. He enjoys spending time with his friends and classmates at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he majored in environmental education and business communication.
College could have been a sun- kissed idyll for this young man, as it is for many kids enjoying the sweet weather and beauty of the Central Coast.
But that’s where Ryland surprises us. It wasn’t just all sun, sand, surf and beer for this recent UCSB graduate. He’s the mastermind behind the nonprofit organization Environmental Education for the Next Generation (EENG), a volunteer program putting college students to work in elementary school classrooms.
“It all started with two `thank- you’s,'” he says. A few years ago, he worked as a surf-camp instructor at Pacifica. For one week, Ryland gave private lessons to a developmentally-disabled child. “The boy would barely stick a toe in the water,” he recalls. By the end of the week, the child not only could swim in the ocean but also tried taking a wave or two. The child’s parents were delighted and thanked Ryland for his patient teaching.
This first ‘thank-you’ inspired Ryland as he started his first year at UCSB. He joined the Environmental Affairs Board and began teaching kids about the environment at Isla Vista Elementary School. He found he could teach the kids about conservation by telling stories and playing games.
The second ‘thank-you’ came on the last day of school when a little girl named Elizabeth came up to Ryland. “She had thick glasses and buck teeth,” he says. “She tugged at my shirt, thanked me, and gave me a big hug. He pauses at the memory.
“When you teach one person, the whole community ends up gaining knowledge from it,” says Ryland. “I knew what I had to do.” So he started EENG, focusing on original projects and a conservation conscious curriculum in and around the classroom.
Ryland admits it’s hard work – and it’s more than sharing ‘rad facts.’ “We focus on the positive of every issue instead of scaring the kids about the problems that surround them every day,” he says.
EENG pairs one classroom with five college volunteer instructors – a better ratio than most California public schools. In this 24-step, two- year program, instructors begin teaching about environmentalism and sustainability to first graders. They share stories and play fun games to explain the importance of natural occurrences like roots, camouflage, and bees.
“The kids are always most excited about getting outside to put the things they learn in the classroom into action,” says Ryland.
That’s where the “Awaken Enthusiasm” exercise comes in. “Nature teams” head outdoors for hands-on activities where children take on “alter-eco-egos.” A symptom of this program: kids start referring to themselves as “Thunder,” “Beaver,” or “Leaping Lizard.” Ryland says, “It’s about learning and having fun doing it.”
For second graders, volunteers use real-life situations to illustrate abstract concepts like energy consumption and water conservation. “I once asked a second grader to pour water into cups for as long as it took her to brush her teeth in the morning,” he says. “I will never forget her expression when she realized how much water actually escaped down the drain when she le?t the faucet running… It’s the experience that really makes it stick.”
EENG also encourages journaling – a way to take the experience home to their families. “We seek to engage role models at home,” he says. The kids ‘teach’ their families through their take-home “Second Nature” assignments filled with fun, easy- to-do activities like “Energy Saving Olympics.”
Ryland talks about one student who came to class the following day ecstatic, excited he was the best in his family at turning off the lights, closing windows, and lowering the thermostat. “Enthusiasm like that helps me stay excited about the program every day,” he says.
The organization takes up most of Ryland’s time. He creates the curriculum, coordinates fundraising events, and most importantly, finds the right people to teach the kids.
Ryland went from working with only a set of five core volunteers to overseeing 190 instructors. He also runs satellite EENG chapters established in San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Cruz. “Too much demand with not enough supply isn’t the worst problem to have,” he says.
Ryland was recently awarded the prestigious Brower Youth Award, an award bestowed by the Earth Island Institute, which recognizes environmental achievement by young people across the globe. This is no small feat. Next, he hopes to win VH1’s $100,000 Do Something Award in order to launch more EENG branches throughout the United States.
“A day spent running around from meetings to classrooms brings me as much satisfaction as a day spent surfing,” says Ryland.
Written by Oisin Lewis; Photos by Matt Perko. Live for a Better World.