Aulas Verdes/Green Classrooms Grows Across Panama
Nine years ago, Panama Audubon, focused on creating education, research and community programs that forward the appreciation of birds as a means of conserving habitat, began the Aulas Verdes (Green Classrooms) program. An environmental education program, Aulas Verdes has helped to facilitate the inclusion of environmental issues within the curriculum of primary schools throughout Panama City. We started with just one school and have grown the program to 15 schools, thanks to the support of the Ministry of Education and local and international donors.
Since the start of the program, school principals and teachers have provided testimony in meetings, forums and casual conversation on how interesting and successful the project has been. This has resulted in the program’s rapid growth.
With the support of the Islas Secas Foundation in partnership with the National Audubon Society, we now have the opportunity to spread our wings to a new area: the beautiful coastal towns in the Chiriquí province in Western Panama.
But what is Aulas Verdes and why do so many teachers want to participate in the project? To share the experience of the impact of the program, we invited representatives from The Islas Secas Foundation to accompany us one morning to the Cirilo J Martinez School located in the village of Pedregal on the outskirts of Panama City. Waiting for us at the school were Petra Checa, Gilberto Cruz and Carmen Contreras, our environmental educators, and they were joined by the school principal, Martina de González, and teachers participating in the Aulas Verdes program, Leonarda, Concepción, Edelka, Elvia, Martiza, Neira, Ilene and Thelma. The students gave us a lively welcome. Everyone was ready to “work” in the style of Aulas Verdes – hands-on immersion. Some participated in a painting workshop on the diversity of our natural areas. Other students and teachers split into small groups to study small plots of the schoolyard, questioning and reflecting on the organic and inorganic material that they came across, documenting their finding and comparing notes. Others discussed the biodiversity of our wetlands, and the different types of habitats and the animals that reside within them right here in Panama City.
The flow of knowledge was everywhere. I watched children create pictures using colors and pigment from our plants and tropical flowers, and helped another group of student observe habitat in the schoolyard. As they discussed the details they wanted to include in their report, I felt like a child again. I tried to remember if my own education had included exploring the local environment, but I couldn’t think of a single time when that occurred, nor had it been encouraged. And by the end of the full visit, it was difficult to say goodbye – we sincerely wanted to stay in this place where appetite for learning was high, and pride in the local environment was being nurtured. That morning brought out the children inside all of us, with childlike-hope and aspirations for a better world, starting right here.
Without a doubt, as we interact with the teachers, students and families who participate in Aulas Verdes, the motivations that spurred us to start the program all those years ago are reinvigorated: we continue to be inspired to help shape future conservation leaders, one school at a time. With the help of the Islas Secas Foundation, we can’t wait to begin the Aulas Verdes program in Chiriquí.