BECY Program Receives Academic Evaluation
by: Carly Schmidt
On Friday, July 24, Borderlands Restoration wrapped up its third season of the Borderlands Earth Care Youth (BECY) Institute. This summer I had the pleasure of researching and evaluating the BECY program for my master’s thesis at Northern Arizona University. This study is classified as an outcome evaluation, looking specifically at the desired changes that result from participation in or exposure to the BECY Institute. As the BECY Institute expands, it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of this place-based program in order to maximize its benefits.
I am not the first to evaluate an environmental education (EE) program of this kind, however I am still acquainting myself with this vast academic community whose passion is molding the next generation of environmental stewards. In my first year of study at NAU, I was preparing to research the Nairobi Rivers restoration project in Nairobi, Kenya. Unfortunate political turbulence in April caused me to rethink my research plan. I began a second search for a research platform that would comply with my big-picture mentality and desire to make change on a large scale.
A local student internship program in the sparsely populated region of southeastern Arizona is not explicitly what anyone would call “big-picture”. However, I became quickly acquainted with the literature which shows that EE programs similar to the BECY Institute have the potential to instill a lifelong commitment to conservation in high school-aged children. There is something very valuable to be learned from a program that teaches students about environmental phenomena while providing them the skills to act on their new-found values in these formative years. Benefits stretch beyond the individual student, as programs that address the full spectrum of environmental studies lead to economic prosperity, learner achievement, and engagement in the affected community.
Learner achievement and attitude changes were measured in large part by a pre- and post-program survey of the 2015 participants. Observations over the course of the six-week program in addition to preliminary survey results suggest an increased understanding of basic ecological concepts as well as concepts that are more specific to the Patagonia area. Examples include invasive and native species of Arizona, the restoration process, the scientific process, and basic ecological definitions.
Evidence of the students enthusiasm for local and small-scale restoration was perhaps most readily demonstrated by their commitment to their own independent restoration projects. This final element of
the BECY Institute is a new requirement this year. Students presented their unique approach to local restoration and conservation issues at their graduation celebration on Friday night. Their projects utilize their unique talents, interests, and new skills. This study will follow their commitment to these projects in order to measure any change in pro-environmental behavior following participation in the BECY Institute.
A full analysis of survey results will address seven potential outcomes of the BECY program. These outcomes are outlined by the NAAEE and are used as a pre-determined framework of success. The study will address the extent to which the BECY Institute cultivates the following outcomes: knowledge; skills; attitudes; awareness; behaviors; practice or system change in communities; and ecosystem services.
Carly Schmidt received a B.A. in Political Science with Geology, French & Sociology minors at the University of Tulsa, and is currently working towards a M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy at Northern Arizona University.