By Melanie Meren:
For the kids, families, and our furry friends we bring to outdoor spaces, it’s critical to remember that it’s the hard work of county officials that preserves our environment and connects us with nature. I want to take that success into all Fairfax County classrooms.
Connecting students with their natural surroundings can inspire them to be the environmentalists we need while also helping them achieve in school! Students are motivated to learn when they understand how what they’re learning matters to them.
What I’m proposing as a Democratic candidate for School Board from Hunter Mill District is to implement bold and proven Environmental Education (“Enviro Ed”) ideas that result in academic success and cultivate environmental stewards.
My first direct experience in the Fairfax County Public School system was as a substitute teacher soon after I moved to Hunter Mill. Then, when my children began school, I eagerly began volunteering in their classrooms.
Reflecting on these experiences, I was struck at the disparities in offerings of Enviro Ed among schools. Gardens at some schools and not others; outdoor learning experiences here but not there. Some students are at a disadvantage from not having rich Enviro Ed experiences that others have.
Yet it’s not just students who get left behind – it’s also parents, families, and community members. The better we demonstrate the importance of environmental protection and community preservation, the more likely Fairfax residents are going to want to protect our fragile environment.
While leading my communications firm over the last decade I simultaneously worked to expand Enviro Ed in Fairfax. First, I got involved locally, which led to my eight-year leadership role with NoVA Outside, the alliance for outdoor educators. Through that work I became an advocate for Fairfax County Public Schools’ Get2Green program, which I want to expand to all of our schools, equitably.
Recently, as our school’s PTA Green Team Chair, I built an outdoor classroom at Wolftrap Elementary School. With this new learning space, teachers bring the lessons outdoors. Activities include reading outside in the fresh air, cataloguing flora and fauna on school grounds as citizen scientists, using objects in nature to demonstrate mathematical concepts – and much more!
Let’s also remember that Enviro Ed improvements and expansion will prepare our students for Virginia’s Green Economy. Engineers, computer scientists, and construction professionals are in high demand. We need these workers to understand the role of nature, the environment, and our community in their work – and the consequences of their decisions on where we live.
Much of today’s dialogue is drowned out by national debate on environmental topics, but we can promote our values as a responsible community in Fairfax County. Just like that classroom I built, I’m ready to scale this vision in Hunter Mill and our county by serving on the school board. If we connect our priorities for education and the environment, I believe together we can fulfill the promise of life in Fairfax County.
Melanie Meren is an independent communications consultant at MKM Strategies and is running for the Fairfax County School Board seat from Hunter Mill District.
Photo: Melanie Meren is running for Hunter Mill District’s School Board seat on a platform featuring better environmental education/ Photo by Brad Swanson