ATP Expands Environmental Education Program to Armenia’s Regions

ARMENIA TREE PROJECT
65 Main Street
Watertown, MA 02472 USA
Tel: (617) 926-TREE
Email: [email protected]
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 20, 2009

ATP Expands Environmental Education Program to Armenia’s Regions

An Interview with Program Manager Anna Jenderedjian

By Jason Sohigian

Armenia Tree Project launched an environmental education program in 2005 to
prepare the nation’s youth for becoming the next generation of environmental
stewards. As part of the program, ATP disseminates knowledge on
environmental issues and tree care through training teachers on implementing
environmental curricula and organizing activities for students,
professionals, and local communities.

Program Manager Anna Jenderedjian has master’s degrees in Environmental
Sciences and Policy from Central European University in Budapest and in
Psychology from Yerevan State University. Prior to joining ATP she was
involved in environmental communication and education programs with the
Regional Environmental Center for the Caucasus, Caucasus Environmental NGO
Network, and Peace Corps.

Jason Sohigian: How has Armenia Tree Project’s environmental education
program progressed in the last couple of years?

Anna Jenderedjian: The expansion of ATP’s reforestation and community tree
planting activities revealed the need for environmental education in
Armenia. Planting trees alone was not enough. Armenia has many unsolved and
emerging environmental issues and unfortunately, the level of environmental
awareness among the public is not high. By encouraging youth to appreciate
and understand the environment, ATP ensures that the trees planted today
will be cared for and we guarantee the sustainability and effectiveness of
our work.

In order to increase knowledge and promote a greater appreciation for the
environment, ATP’s Environmental Education Program was launched in 2005. A
major component of the program was the publication of the "Plant an Idea,
Plant a Tree" curriculum, which was recommended by the Ministry of
Education’s National Institute of Education as a manual for public school
teachers. The manual includes lesson plans for outdoor and indoor
activities, methodologies for lesson preparation, and samples of
evaluations. Every school in Armenia received a copy of ATP’s curriculum.

>From 2006-2008 more than 700 public school teachers were trained in Kotayk,
Syunik, Vayots Dzor, Lori, Shirak, Gegharkunik, and Yerevan, and these
teachers use the curriculum in their everyday work. At the same time, we
train schoolchildren, university students, and community members on tree
care, organic agriculture, and other subjects at our tree planting sites and
the Michael and Virginia Ohanian Environmental Education Center at Karin
Nursery.

JS: How have teachers and students responded to ATP’s environmental
education curriculum?

AJ: The ATP curriculum is innovative and demanding, incorporating many
examples of good practice in the field of environmental education. The
lessons are based on a student-centered approach, so the teacher provides
the framework of activities and students explore the environment surrounding
them. Traditionally in the former Soviet system, educators were using a
teacher-centered approach according to a strict state adopted teaching plan.
The use of this curriculum implies creativity, openness, and undoubtedly, a
passion for nature.

JS: What are some of the other important advancements ATP has made in the
area of environmental education in Armenia?

AJ: In 2004, the Michael and Virginia Ohanian Environmental Education Center
was established at ATP’s Karin Nursery to educate, excite, and engage the
youth to explore and protect nature. This was a first for Armenia, and every
year hundreds of students attend classes there using the ATP curriculum. In
2008, we hosted more than 700 schoolchildren at the Ohanian Center, where
teachers conducted outdoor lessons. The Ohanian Center provides children
with an unforgettable experience, offering them the opportunity to learn
more about trees and other plants and enjoy a wide variety of activities.

Thanks to the most recent gift by Mrs. Virginia Ohanian, ATP is establishing
another center near the Mirak Family Reforestation Nursery in Margahovit
Village. Located in a mountainous and forested region, the new center will
be a unique place where college students, schoolchildren, local residents,
and professionals throughout the Caucasus can enrich their knowledge about
the fragile ecosystems of Armenia’s forests. The center is expected to be a
place to share ideas and experiences related to transboundary forest
conservation and management, for example between Georgia and Armenia.

JS: How is ATP implementing its environmental education program among the
youth in Armenia?

AJ: Every year in Karin Nursery we host students from Yerevan State
University and the Agricultural Academy. In 2008 we hosted 270 students who
did their practical assignments at the nursery, while another 521
schoolchildren from Yerevan and nearby villages and towns had environmental
classes at the Ohanian Center.

In addition, ATP trains the environmental youth clubs in the Alapars, Aygut,
Margahovit, and Aghavnavank communities. While learning about organic
farming, tree care, sustainable agriculture, landscape design, and other
environmental issues, the youth clubs take care of their own community
orchards and backyard nurseries. For example, in Aygut the youth club tends
a fruit tree garden and the harvest is served at the school cafeteria.

JS: Is environmental education a separate program or is it integrated into
the tree planting programs as well?

AJ: ATP’s environmental education program has its own goals, objectives, and
strategy, but it is an integral part of the other ATP programs. The
Community Tree Planting and Rural and Mountainous Development programs have
educational components, like teaching the community how to plant and take
care of trees. In the areas where reforestation or community tree planting
is implemented, ATP works to ensure the proper level of environmental
awareness.

One of the most effective examples of cooperation was the organization of
trainings at Yerevan Public School No. 194 where we planted trees. In
addition to receiving general knowledge on tree planting and care, 10
teachers were trained to use the ATP curriculum and the students visited
ATP’s Karin Nursery in spring and autumn.

We organized a series of educational activities at ATP’s Mirak Nursery in
Margahovit. We worked with the schoolchildren for three months on
environmental issues and ways to deal with some of the challenges. This
program concluded with a clean-up in their community and a special "green"
performance by the schoolchildren.

JS: What is the status of environmental education in the country in general?
Has the Armenian government been supportive of this ATP program?

AJ: Although the Republic of Armenia adopted a Law on Environmental
Education in 2001, the level of environmental awareness in rural and urban
areas is still quite low. The law clearly states that compulsory ecological
education has to be implemented "in all levels of the educational system,"
and the subject on "use of natural resources and nature protection" is
included in the list of elective subjects by the Ministry of Education.

Today in collaboration with the National Institute of Education, ATP trains
public school teachers all over Armenia on how to integrate environmental
education into the core curriculum and to conduct interesting and motivating
lessons to raise the level of environmental consciousness. Many
schoolteachers select lessons from the ATP curriculum for biology,
chemistry, physics, geography, and other subjects, and for the school
environmental clubs.

Upon our request, experts at the National Institute of Education have
evaluated the manual, and this year we are going to enhance the curriculum
with new lesson plans on climate change and other topics.

JS: What are ATP’s goals to expand its environmental education program? What
are the next steps needed to improve the level of environmental education in
Armenia?

AJ: As part of our efforts to improve the state of environmental education
in Armenia, we are going to extend our reach by cooperating with educators
and youth in Northern Armenia. In addition, an updated manual will include
lessons aligned with the State Educational Standards. Following the
recommendations made by the National Institute of Education, the manual will
include lessons for both primary and secondary schools. Therefore, from the
very beginning of their studies schoolchildren will be taught the principles
of environmental stewardship.

ATP has also been collaborating with the Yale University School of Forestry
and Environmental Studies to publish a sustainable forestry manual for
Armenia, which we plan to present to the Ministry of Agriculture and State
Forestry Service. The manual will be a basis for ATP trainings for current
and future foresters, as well as local residents to illustrate how to
improve their socio-economic condition through local management of the
forests, which will protect and maintain forest ecosystems.

JS: Why do you think environmental education is important for ATP and for
Armenia?

AJ: The local communities and especially the younger generations must have a
sense of ownership and responsibility for a tree, a garden, and their
natural environment. Unfortunately, today in Armenia economic considerations
prevail over environmental and social ones. The current economic development
trends of Armenia often jeopardize long-term sustainability. Natural
resources are being depleted unsustainably, with a lack of sufficient
consideration of the future impacts on the environment and public health.

In my opinion, education is a powerful means to address environmental
problems, since it reaches the population at young age. Young people are
also able to transfer their ideas to their elder family members.
Fortunately, I am seeing more and more youth in Armenia joining
environmental movements in opposition to the unsustainable exploitation of
natural resources.

PHOTO CAPTION:

In 2008 ATP hosted more than 700 schoolchildren at the Michael and Virginia
Environmental Education Center at Karin Nursery, where they learn about
trees and other plants and enjoy a wide variety of classroom and outdoor
educational activities

www.armeniatree.org

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