Reflections on the New Jersey
EIC Demonstration School Program
by Jerry Schierloh and Tanya Oznowich, 2004
This educational effort focused on the implementation of a nationally-recognized model known as "the EIC Approach" (Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning). The EIC Demonstration School Program in New Jersey provided a "growth experience" for the nine school teams that were involved. The program provided an opportunity for small teams of teachers, students and administrators within schools to practice sound educational pedagogues around a strong context of place-based learning. Although touted as an "educational improvement model" rather than environmental education (EE), EIC practitioners have - through participation in the program - become more aware of, and sensitive to, local environments and associated environmental concerns.
To implement the EIC Demonstration School Program in 2000 - 2003 the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) received two consecutive education grants of $70,000 each from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and $50,000 Eisenhower funds from the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE). To advise, implement and promote this initiative DEP worked in partnership with DOE, the State Education and Environment Roundtable, the New Jersey Commission on Environmental Education and Inter-agency Work Group and the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education.
For some of the EIC schools the model was an extension of existing curriculum and pedagogical practices that already paralleled the EIC approach. For other EIC schools it represented a new and innovative way to fully engage participating students and teachers in the learning and instructional process. Virtually all participating schools in New Jersey's EIC Demonstration School Program discovered elements of the EIC approach that enriched and elevated some aspect of their team's teaching and learning regime.
Skills gained by EIC school team members include: Identified local environmental focuses of investigation to serve as a basis for curriculum enrichment; practiced an inquiry approach that targeted state curriculum standards by using investigative questions; employed a collaborative approach to curriculum planning; utilized community resources that provided relevant support; and understood that the EIC model represents an ongoing process for place-based learning.
New Jersey's EIC Demonstration School Program also provided an opportunity for formal school educators to collaborate with non-formal environmental education professionals through a teaming and facilitation approach. As a result, formal educators were connected to valuable community environmental resources and enrichment opportunities while EE professionals gained in-depth knowledge of curriculum and instruction methods and school administrative issues that may help them better market their products and services to local schools. This mutually beneficial relationship may serve as a valuable template for other place-based school curriculum and instruction models in the future.
While the New Jersey EIC Demonstration School Program is no longer active interested persons can learn more about the model and the activities of the participating New Jersey schools by visiting www.seer.org/index.html and www.nj.gov/dep/seeds/eic.htm and by requesting a set of EIC support materials from DEP at 609-984-9802.
Jerry Schierloh and Tanya Oznowich served as co-coordinators of the New Jersey EIC Demonstration School Program in 2000 - 2004.