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Place-based education has emerged over the past decade from the fertile intersection of environmental education and community development, but it offers a fundamentally different approach to both. It bucks the trend toward standardized, high-stakes testing of one-size-fits-all knowledge by immersing students in local heritage, regional cultures and landscapes. These local opportunities and experiences are the springboard for studying regional, national and global issues, and empower students to make positive changes in their own communities. Place-based education has built on the foundation of diverse initiatives from across the country, including:

The Foxfire Fund

This effort is well known for its work connecting rural students to the crafts, culture, and historical economy of Georgia. This Fund tries to build an appreciation for the assets of rural Appalachia to help construct and maintain a vital community.

The Annenberg Rural Challenge

In the 1990s, the Annenberg Rural Challenge supported networks of schools across the nation that were trying to move beyond homogenized national textbooks to connect schools to their communities. By working across the disciplines to discover local places, and work with local people, the Rural Challenge (now the Rural School and Community Trust) tries to validate the importance of where students live and the lives and futures of the people of those communities.

The Stories in the Land Teaching Fellowships

This program of the Orion Society supports place-based learning for educators. Its outdoor experiences enhance a positive connection to a real place and planet, which can help overcome a cultural sense of paralysis in the face of overwhelming global issues such as climate change, violence and species extinction. Place-based education helps overcome apathy by rooting massive global concerns firmly on a scale compatible with personal bonding, compassion, and community.

Education for Sustainability

EFS reflects a global dialogue between people working for the planet’s biodiversity and ecological systems, and those addressing hunger, literacy, health, and equity. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The President’s Council on Sustainable Development defined education for sustainability as “a lifelong learning process that leads to an informed and involved citizenry having the creative problem-solving skills, scientific and social literacy, and commitment to engage in responsible individual and cooperative actions. These actions will help ensure an environmentally sound and economically prosperous future.”


Fungi Map

Volunteers make observations of 50 easily identifiable species of fungi during their hikes in the park. Park staff use visitor reports to better understand where and when these species of fungi can be found in the park. These programs focus on involving volunteers in hands-on learning while providing valuable data for actual park research projects

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC

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