Teacher Programs that Inspire Young Learners to Become Tomorrow’s Environmental Stewards

Inspired to help children form a deep connection with their natural environment, Yash Bhagwanji, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Education, launched an early childhood education special topics course in 2010. Achieving resounding success and sustained philanthropic support from the George B. Storer Foundation, Dr. Bhagwanji has built the College’s Early Childhood Environmental Education (ECEE) program from the ground up. Today, education students can elect an ECEE specialization within their bachelor’s program or enroll in the nation’s first undergraduate ECEE certificate program, which is also open to students of all majors and teachers in the field.

“By offering this specialization, Florida Atlantic serves as a model for other higher education institutions, school leaders and teachers,” Dr. Bhagwanji said. “We are providing tools to help educators reimagine curriculum and program practices that nurture environmental literacy and stewardship from an early age.”

During a national conference, Dr. Bhagwanji shared the 
success of the College’s first ECEE course, inspiring colleagues and garnering interest from the Storer Foundation. Mutual interests in cultivating children’s environmental engagement sparked what has become 10 years of a fertile relationship between the College of Education and Storer Foundation. Known for promoting developmentally appropriate, high-quality early childhood education, the Storer Foundation has empowered future generations to become confident leaders, engaged citizens and good stewards of the earth’s resources for nearly 70 years.

Growing from a single course to multiple program options and student scholarship support, Storer Foundation funding helped Dr. Bhagwanji create curriculum principles, guiding development of comprehensive ECEE studies at Florida Atlantic. Aligned with providing highquality, early childhood education, the goal of the ECEE program is to educate teachers who will positively impact child development, learning, health and civic engagement with the environment. In addition to programmatic support, the Storer Foundation has provided tuition assistance for 196 Florida Atlantic students.

“During my program, my family experienced a financial shift that made it difficult for me to continue paying tuition,” shared former ECEE student Jacki Pavlick. “However, grant support from the Storer Foundation, allowed me to complete my certification and accept a job offer.”

Jacki now serves as a Pre-K teacher, as well as the garden and nature teacher, at a private school in Texas. She credits her successful career with the experiential training she received. A hallmark of the ECEE programs are the outdoor learning activities in natural habitats and with local community organizations. Each activity reflects best practices, using hands-on, real-world experiences where higher-order learning is directly and profoundly impacted.

“As an educator, my greatest joy is hearing from students about their discoveries during explorations, community projects and working together,” Dr. Bhagwanji said. “The palpable changes I see in students as they gain new insights are truly extraordinary.”

To learn more about how Florida Atlantic is dedicated to training the next generation of environmental educators, as well as how Transcend Tomorrow: The Campaign for Florida Atlantic University is working to provide scholarships that propel success, visit transcendtomorrow.fau.edu.

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