STEM Through the Arts: Bringing state-of-the-art environmental health education to youth in agricultural communities

  • Project Description

    Youth have a right to know what environmental stressors they are exposed to and how to protect themselves and their communities. We are building a coalition of scientists, educators, and artists to develop a curriculum and train teachers and students living in underserved agricultural communities about the inter-relationship between the environment and human health. We will focus on three sources of exposure: climate change, ocean plastics, and food systems. Cutting-edge environmental health education aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will be enhanced with arts-based inquiry to increase pathways to sciences and help diversify STEM fields in the Salinas Valley region and beyond.

  • Abstract

    Environmental exposures are associated with common morbidities in U.S. children,
    including decreased neurodevelopment and IQ, behavior problems, and asthma. Disadvantaged youth
    are on the frontlines of these exposures and have a right to know what they are exposed to and how to
    protect themselves and their communities. Improved Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
    (STEM) skill-sets that include environmental health literacy can help students grow into an expanding
    science-based labor sector. Few school curricula clarify the relationship between the environment and
    human health. Similarly, there is often a gap between abstract knowledge and STEM materials that are
    relevant to student’s interests, local concerns, and work-force expectations. To improve science
    education in our region, we propose to develop a fully integrated Monterey County environmental
    health partnership that brings state-of-the-art environmental health education aligned with Next
    Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to schools serving low-income agricultural communities.

    California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB), a Hispanic-Serving Institution founded on the
    vision to serve “working class and historically undereducated and low-income populations,” will lead the
    partnership. CSUMB serves many agricultural communities, with 72% of students receiving aid and
    53% being the first generation in their families to go to college. CSUMB is nationally recognized as a
    leader in science education and received Presidential recognition for service learning, including
    research-based STEM and Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, or STEAM, education.
    Many CSUMB students come from the Salinas Valley, known as the “salad bowl of the world” and one
    of the nation’s most productive agricultural regions, supporting ~50,000 farmworkers; their children,
    primarily Mexican-American, are ~80% of the 78,000 students served by Monterey County public
    schools. These students face many challenges, including low income, English as a second language,
    poor housing, violence and gang activity, water contamination, and exposures to pesticides, nitrate
    fertilizers, and other emissions from agriculture. CSUMB recently established the Salinas Center for
    Arts and Culture as a place of community connection, celebration, and dissemination of undergraduate
    research. The building houses the Steinbeck Museum and is located in downtown Salinas.

    The overarching goals of this research education program are:
    Goal 1: To evaluate the efficacy of public school, non-profit, and university partnerships to inform and improve STEM education in low-income Latinx communities in Monterey County.

    Goal 2: Increase teacher understanding of basic NGSS-aligned environmental health knowledge that is critical to biomedical research and help them make this knowledge accessible to underserved populations.

    Goal 3: Investigate the opportunities afforded by immersive STEAM learning in formal and out-of-classroom settings to increase awareness of, and interest in, biomedical research careers among underserved youth and teens.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    Teacher training summits, virtual training, community events, communications with school district stakeholders

Project Audience

Participants: 30 teachers per year with ~ 30 students per class for 3 years, ~90 total teachers and up to 3,000-4,000 total students

Subjects Addressed

Next Generation Science Standards infused with scientific literature, project based learning, multimedia, participatory research, and arts-based inquiry