Rural Training Center, Thailand (RTC-Thailand)

Rural Environmental Education Enhancement Pilot Program (REEEPP)

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PLANTING SEEDS TODAY TO REEEPP BENEFITS TOMORROW

[Note: This article was originally published in the Earth Systems Science, Inc (ESSI) web newsletter on 6 Sep 2004. Saifon and Gregory Lee created the Rural Environmental Education Enhancement Pilot Program (REEEPP) as an international project for ESSI. The success of the REEEPP required more time and effort, so the Lees switched their energies from ESSI to create the Rural Training Center-Thailand to be responsible for REEEPP. As a co-founder of ESSI, Gregory Lee created much of the ESSI core concepts are also incorporated into the RTC-TH. The critical difference is that ESSI applies the concepts to an urban environment while the RTC-TH applies them in rural settings. In most cases, functions in this article referring to ESSI are being assumed by the RTC-TH.]

Earth Systems Science, Inc. (ESSI) and the Na Fa Elementary School (NFES) students, faculty, and staff have joined hands in an ambitious Rural Environmental Education Enhancement Pilot Program (REEEPP) integrating math, environmental science, geography, and English. ESSI typically applies an “appropriate technology” approach in its education programs to assure project success and a realistic fit to local conditions, budgets, and relevant operational constraints.

Saifon Lee (nee Suttisan), ESSI Director of Programs visited her "hometown" (Na Fa Village) of Thawangpha Subdistrict in Nan Province, Thailand. She was laying the ground work for the ESSI Thailand Summer 2005 Volunteer project focusing on sustainable agricultural practices. During her visit, she had a chance to talk with teachers and administrators of the Na Fa Elementary School. Hoping to follow-up on a project idea from 1999, she wanted to find a school teacher willing to get students involved in a NASA research project. After a series of informal talks, a flurry of e-mails back to ESSI, a very cataclysmic synthesis took place and gave birth to REEEPP.

The main goal is to enrich the education of rural students and teachers using the environment as the central theme. The ESSI community-based education approach of Y.E.S. (Youth, Environment, Sustainability), P.A.L. (Practical Applied Lessons), Teach Backs (where students become teachers) and the Geographic Systems Model will be adapted to the Thai elementary education lessons. The idea is to provide relevant local environmental education bi-lingual lessons (English-Thai) parallel to relevant math, science, geography, and English lessons typically taught in Thai rural schools.

In addition to these innovations, other critical aspects of the ESSI are:
1) An interdisciplinary approach to education. All subjects are interconnected and are combined in the lessons. Typically traditional school teaching is compartmentalized by subject matter. For example, language, math, science, geography are all taught as separate subjects using separate books. ESSI uses an integrated approach to studying the environment. For example, when looking at a garden site, climatic records are used and involve math. Landform and rocks are studied and involve geometry, chemistry, and math. Studying the existing plants (some natural others introduced) combine botany, sociology, and history. Observing the birds, butterflies and other insects in the garden involves biology (botany, entomology, ornithology, ecology), geography, math. At the same time, music and art can be applied along with language arts as students create reports about the lessons in the garden.

2) Community-based education: Schools cannot operate in isolation. The lessons taught should be relevant to daily life and to the needs of the community. Not all teachers have diplomas and formal schooling. For ESSI, the basic teaching unit is the family. In the family, the teachers (parents) are people who have knowledge of some subjects, care about the student (their children), and are willing to share their knowledge. People are the foundation of a community / society. Schools are social institutions to serve the people and the community. For a community to survive, it must be able to sustain itself. Education is a fundamental way to help prepare people to survive and to help sustain their communities. Schools and communities (the local people) need to be in close contact to assure the education provided in schools meets the needs of society. ESSI strives to empower local people to learn about the environment in order to create, develop, and maintain sustainable neighborhoods. This pilot project strives to forge the education link between schools and local residents.

3) Teach Backs: Many schools have a shortage of teachers. ESSI lessons use “Teach Backs” as a means of improving learning. As students learn a lesson, they are required to teach that lesson to another student. This reinforces the learning and makes each student a “little teacher” assisting in the class. This also empowers the student to take the lesson home to repeat the lesson and to possibly put it into practice off campus. This contributes to the diffusion of the lesson throughout the community.

These basic ESSI components are the foundation for the implementation of REEEPP using: Green School, Backyard Wildlife Habitat™, and S’COOL (a part of the NASA---National Aeronautics and Space Administration---CERES project). (For more information about these specific activities, see the web links at the bottom of this page.)

THREE REEEPP PROJECTS

Green School

The Green School Pilot Project at Na Fa Elementary School is an environmental awareness program combining math, environmental science, geography, and English. It is directed at early elementary school children and their families, though older elementary students can also participate. It introduces environmental stewardship, the basic environmental practices of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, composting, and the Trash Bank.

The core goal is environmental awareness / stewardship using the Geographic Systems Model and the basic “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” message. The Geographic Systems Model gives students a systematic way to view the world: Air, Land, Water, and Living Organisms. Essentially, the message is that all things in life are interconnected directly or indirectly. Trash can only go in the air (burning), land (garbage dumps), or water (waste water)---and ultimately the effects get into people and other living organisms.

The “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” message is put into practice on the school campus. Students are taught to conserve materials and energy on campus by reducing unnecessary use, abuse, and waste of materials (e.g. writing paper, tissue, taking a bag when going shopping rather than using more plastic bags). They are taught to reuse materials before discarding them (e.g. give used clothing in good condition to others to use; cut old clothes no longer usable into rags; making empty plastic water bottles into non-toxic fly traps). Organic (vegetable matter) will be separated for composting.

Recycling of glass bottles, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and paper is part of the campus clean up program and becomes the school “Trash Bank.” Student teams are assigned areas of the campus to keep clean. They collect the recyclable materials and deposit them in the “Trash Bank.” (Note: Recyclables from home and the surrounding area can also be collected. This promotes community education / participation in the school Trash Bank program.) These materials are sold to a local recycling business. The money is saved for “Children’s Day.” All of the students then vote to decide how to spend the money. [Note: This activity is wholly consistent with the Gaia Global Meeting 2003 concerning the issue of waste management in Thailand. As such, the implementation of the Trash Bank at Na Fa Elementary School makes it a community resource to educate and motive the local villagers to adopt a sustainable community practice for dealing with waste management and possible water pollution issues.]

A composting demonstration will be set up at the school. The compost will be used in the school’s vegetable garden and habitat garden. The school cooking staff agreed to participate and separate vegetable scraps from the school cafeteria. [Note: Composting is on of the key topics in the sustainable agriculture training for the ESSI Thailand Summer 2005 Volunteer project.]

Students take the lessons from campus to home and the community. These “little teachers” share their classroom knowledge and practice with their siblings and parents and other community members. Thus, the basic environmental lessons spread throughout the community. Our hope is to encourage villages to establish similar Trash Bank projects. This should lead to a community-wide sustainable practice to reduce waste and trash pollution in the countryside.

Wildlife Habitat™

The Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ and Schoolyard Habitat programs of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) are being introduced in northern Thailand (with the encouragement of the NWF). This is the next step beyond the ESSI Green School pilot program. It is aimed at the middle and upper elementary grades. There are three major goals for this pilot program: creating a school garden to get an NWF Schoolyard Habitat™ certification for Na Fa Elementary School; encouraging students and their families to create and maintain habitats in their own yards for local northern Thai native birds, butterflies, and other pollinators; nurturing future environmental stewards through a comprehensive environmental education program focused on habitat creation and maintenance.

ESSI provides simplified lessons relating to the basic habitat lessons will be put into a bi-lingual format (English-Thai). The topics include water, food, shelter, and sustainable practices. The Thai teachers will integrate these lessons with the normal elementary school curriculum. The ESSI lessons are designed as supplementary lessons (many involve outdoor activities so students have direct observation of the natural processes). These supplementary lessons can be done at home with the family. This makes is easy to diffuse the learning from the school to the village.

Habitat loss is one of the main reasons for species extinctions. In Na Fa Village, the main occupation is farming. Pollination is critical to agricultural production. Yet the use of modern pesticides has many negative effects: killing many insect pollinators, reducing bird populations, increasing surface and groundwater pollution and toxicity among others. These habitat lessons reinforce the need to use more sustainable practices to reduce these negative effects.

S’COOL (Student Cloud Observations On-Line)

S’COOL is an educational outreach initiative of the CERES experiment (Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System). This project activity effectively connects Na Fa Elementary School with a world-class space / satellite scientific investigation. The students make ground-based cloud observations at the same time that a research satellite passes overhead. The students are trained to recognize the type and approximate altitude of the clouds, the extent of the cloud coverage, the density of the clouds, and then note the surface conditions around them (land cover, temperature, etc.). The data they collect is sent to NASA via Internet, FAX, or mail. These data are vital to NASA scientists to calibrate the satellite sensors.

ESSI volunteers facilitated the Thai translation of the S’COOL program instructions. The lessons integrate math, science, geography, and English. Upper elementary school students are the primary participants. However, younger children can also participate---and provide a Teach Back opportunity for the primary participants.

Note: ESSI provided the Na Fa Elementary School faculty and administrators with Internet Training as a gesture of good will. Internet technology will be coming to the school in the very near future. However, the 8 teachers and 3 administrators were apprehensive about using the Internet and sending e-mail. Since e-mail would be the fastest and most economical way to communicate with ESSI and NASA, ESSI paid for an afternoon of hands-on computer training at a local Internet shop arranged and taught by Saifon.

While habitat loss is the immediate concern for species extinction, the current scientific thinking points the finger to global climate change adversely affecting habitats. CERES is studying the role of clouds in the radiant energy balance of the Earth-Atmosphere system. Thus, all three components of the ESSI REEEPP are also integrated.

All the REEEPP components link to the original ESSI Thailand Summer 2005 Volunteer project. Families of the Na Fa Elementary School family (students, faculty, staff, and administrators) are eligible to be hosts for the ESSI volunteers for the home stay portion of the project. The Green School, Backyard Wildlife Habitat and the S’COOL activities all have educational components that directly support the sustainable agricultural training topics. Additionally, the results of the English teaching enhancements will be put a very practical test.

SUMMARY OF REEEPP AT BAN NA FA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

The development of REEEPP at the Na Fa Elementary School is something of a miracle. This opportunity came up unexpectedly. Consider these facts:
1) This is a small rural school of 8 teachers, 3 administrators, 4 cooks, and 1 custodian.

2) Of the 8 teachers, 4 were teachers when Saifon was an elementary school student here 1979-1986. By any stretch of the imagination, these teachers are well past "burn out," are good candidates to resist change, and many could easily retire.

3) Everyone volunteered to participate in at least one component of REEEPP. Some volunteered for two components. One reversed a decision to retire and enthusiastically joined the effort. Their dedication to their students and profession certainly warrants our full support and encouragement.

4) While Saifon was still in Na Fa, all the teachers and administrators spent an afternoon learning about the Internet, setting up e-mail accounts, and learning e-mail basics. They survey the campus and discussed how the REEEPP components would fit into the long-range plans for the campus. They decided on a site for the campus garden, made plans to renovate an old chicken coop for use as the Trash Bank.

5) One week after Saifon returned to Los Angeles, we got word that Na Fa Elementary School had contacted a recycling company to purchase the materials from the school Trash Bank program.

6) Two weeks after Saifon returned to Los Angeles, we got a report that the Na Fa volunteers had completed building the pond for their school garden! Talk about enthusiasm.

7) National Wildlife Federation response to the ESSI pilot in northern Thailand resulted in the following: an official NWF letter of support to raise funds to support the effort; donation of NWF logo T-shirts for the Na Fa Elementary School Faculty, Staff, and Administrators; NWF logo ballpoint pens for the 150 students; a one-year subscription to “My Big Backyard” magazine for the school; application fee waivers for a Schoolyard Habitat certification application and 12 Backyard Habitat certification applications.

8) ThaitownUSA (a local Los Angeles area Thai language newspaper) featured a front page story about the S’COOL effort in its July 9, 2004 issue.

9) The NASA S’COOL webpage posted a link to the ESSI website for the Thai language translation of the S’COOL project instructions.

If you would like to support this effort, donations are gratefully accepted. Make checks payable to Earth Systems Science, Inc., designate the funds for the REEEPP-Thailand, and mail them to Earth Systems Science Inc, REEEPP-Thailand, PO Box 8042, Van Nuys, CA 91409.


ESSI uses “off-the-shelf” activities and technologies in the pursuit of providing educational opportunities for families and sustainable communities. The following provided sources of information and inspiration for the REEEPP in northern Thailand.

Email us
rtc2k5@gmail.com

Links to Additional Resources

Trash Bank
National Wildlife Federation
Wildlife Habitat Information
NASA CERES S?’COOL
NASA CERES S?’COOL Instructions (in Thai)
REEEPP Summer 2005 Report
REEEPP Summer 2006 Review

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