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Thesis Abstract – Stroutsos (2015)


Environmental Education Curricula in the Inland Empire: Ethnographic Accounts of Innovative Schooling

Author and college:

Mia Stroutsos, Pitzer College


May 2015


Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Environmental Analysis


Claudia Strauss, Professor of Anthropology, Pitzer College
Paul Faulstich, Professor of Environmental Analysis, Pitzer College
Tessa Hicks Peterson, Assistant Vice President of Community Engagement, Pitzer College


No abstract provided – excerpt from the Introduction

There are many motivations and aims surrounding my senior thesis. I hope to provide my readers and the greater community with an understanding of how alternative education models can fit into our current education system, which is failing in many ways. In Claremont, California and across the nation, parents, educators, college students, community members, and school districts need a better understanding of their place and natural spaces. My ultimate goal is that this thesis can be used as both a resource and means for increased support in implementing experiential learning models. I believe there is a deep importance in continuing and expanding the environmental education models in Claremont’s education institutions, as current efforts are positively influencing our youth population. I share my thesis research with the utmost excitement and intentionality. At its deepest level, my thesis topic stems from my early education, which gave me access to environmental and alternative curricula.

Through my literature review and field research, I have concluded that environmental education models are successfully addressing children’s detachment from the natural world, and instilling a sense of place and connection to contemporary environmental issues. On the other hand, there are a number of challenges to implementing environmental education curricula within the current education system and culture. Social and community issues based on class and power dynamics affect student’s access to environmental knowledge, while urbanization and the use of technology limit direct engagements with natural spaces. My case studies of Oakmont Elementary and the Pitzer club A Cleaner Tomorrow (ACT), a pilot program at the Bernard Biological Field Station (BFS), and Pitzer College’s LEEP (Leadership in Environmental Education Partnership) program, have shed light on the themes of ecology, community partnership, and youth development as they pertain to environmental education. These programs approach environmental education differently, despite being located in the same ecosystem and school district. My findings highlight how people from different backgrounds learn from and experience nature differently, and the ways in which environmental curricula expands student’s learning.

Based on my review of relevant literature on my topic, I believe my thesis fills a void in qualitative research. My research focuses on the effects and outcomes of being involved in environmental education programming. Furthermore, my incorporation of critical pedagogy and place-and community based education theory adds a layer to the interpretation of my findings that is unique to current literature. Lastly, the interactions amongst college students, schoolteachers, 5th and 6th graders, and community members, offer powerful perspectives on community oriented learning and our current education culture. This thesis draws upon current theories and studies, and provides a new set of understandings to the fields of educational anthropology, environmental anthropology, education theory, and beyond.

For more information:

Contact Claudia Strauss – claudia_strauss@pitzer.edu

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