Environmental education at the top of the class for area teachers
Posted: 07/14/2003
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Seventeen Rio Grande Valley K-12 teachers are going back to school, July 10-25, at The University of Texas-Pan American for the 2003 Teaching Environmental Sciences (TES) course sponsored by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Class participants in the 2003 Teaching Environmental Sciences course at The University of Texas Pan American are front left to right Dr. Amin Ibrahim, instructor; Shaw Chinyere, Jayni C. Mariscal; Shireen Yousef; Lorelei Loya-Alvarez; Vilma H. Ramirez; Marissa I. Saenz; Linda Gutierrez; Hilda Huron; Adrienne De La Rosa; Mary Kelley, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality education coordinator; and Dr. Michael Eastman, dean of the College of Science and Engineering at UTPA. Rear left to right are Carmel López-Juarez; Aimee Pulido; Irma Castillo; Martha I. Sanchez; Suliman H. Adil; and Jason Cantu, instruction assistant.
Led by Dr. Amin Ibrahim, a UTPA assistant professor of chemistry, this tuition-free graduate level course is in its fourth year at UTPA and designed to provide hands-on experience and education on numerous environmental issues - both local and global - including water quality, air pollution, landfills, recycling, habitat restoration, oil spills, global warming, acid rains and ozone depletion.

The TES course curriculum is correlated to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and implements teaching strategies that support the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) objectives.

Using field trips, speakers, in-class activities and discussions, student presentations, internet research and lesson plans, the course is intended to enhance teachers' environmental awareness and education. The course also promotes innovative ways teachers can transfer this information and practices to students in the classrooms and ultimately to their families and communities.

Ibrahim said even if teachers taking the course do not teach environmental science as their academic area, they can start a project, such as a garden or recycling, at their school or obtain a small grant for environmental education. Through projects like these, teachers can communicate good environmental practices to students.

"Hopefully, then, when the kids go home they will see things like their dad changing the oil in the car and they will say 'Hey Dad, my teacher told me if you do not recycle this, it is going to end up in our drinking water - why don't we take it to the recycling center,'" Ibrahim said.

Among some of the activities planned for the UTPA class are tours and presentations of the McAllen Recycling Center and Wastewater and Water Treatment plants; the Edinburg Landfill; Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge; and the UTPA Coastal Studies Lab in South Padre Island. Other presentation topics include the environmental impact of NAFTA, grant writing, Texas Watch and local wildlife and birds.

Mary Kelley, an education coordinator for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), said this is the 10th year that TCEQ has sponsored this class, which is now offered in 17 different Texas universities and this year has more than 450 enrolled students.

"It actually started out in response to a solid waste senate bill that said the TCEQ was charged with creating a solid waste curriculum. So our outreach department decided that teaching teachers about the TCEQ mission - clean water, clean air and clean waste - would give us a bigger bang for the buck," Kelley said.

After the class is completed, teachers are required to create an activity or curriculum related to what they have learned. TCEQ then has the projects reviewed for technical accuracy and apply TEKS standards to them. These projects or lessons are then produced into free publications or posted on their website at

For more information on the TES class, contact Ibrahim at 956/384-5003 or by e-mail at