Lewiston woman recognized for efforts in environmental education

April 17, 2019

LEWISTON — Victoria Rydberg has received national recognition for her work as an environmental education consultant at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the nonprofit organization, Green Schools National Network, held its 2019 Best of Green Schools Awards ceremony April 8-9 in St. Paul, Minnesota, giving recognition to nine individuals, institutions and projects in the U.S.

Rydberg, who lives in the town of Lewiston near Portage, won the Ambassador Award for updating environmental education standards in Wisconsin and for integrating them into professional development, resources and teaching, said council director Anisa Heming.

Last year, Rydberg led a team of 30 Wisconsin educators in revising the standards, which hadn’t been updated since 1998.

The standards — which note, for example, that students should examine the interactions and outcomes of cycles and flows in natural and cultural systems, Rydberg said — are intended only to guide environmental curriculum.

“They don’t say things like, ‘You must teach about recycling;’ it’s not like that at all,” Rydberg said of the standards that took her team nine months to draft. “It explains the concepts. It says what students should know when they graduate school.”

Rydberg was the lead teacher at River Crossing Environmental Charter School in the Portage Community School District from 2002-10. The school closed in 2013, about three years after Rydberg started working for the state.

Her work in Portage, she says, still frames how she thinks about environmental education.

“It was such a great adventure,” Rydberg said of teaching as many as 25 seventh- and eighth-grade students each year at River Crossing. “We brought learning to life through weekly outdoor activities during which the kids would give back to the community.”

“I think it makes everything you’re learning in school feel meaningful,” she said of the various projects River Crossing students participated in, such as picking up trash along the Ice Age Trail. “I could see how the students would understand that what they’re learning in school matters to something greater.”

Rydberg oversees the Green and Healthy Schools program that’s administered through a partnership between DPI, the Department of Natural Resources and Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education.

The program, according to its website, provides recognition for public and private schools working to “reduce environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness and increase environmental and sustainability literacy through a self-paced, voluntary, web-based application.”

Columbia County participants in the program include Discovery Charter School in Columbus, Lodi High School and Randolph’s elementary and middle school, said Rydberg, who estimated that more than 25 percent of the public schools in Wisconsin participate in it.

“I would say Wisconsin has built a very strong reputation for providing high-quality environmental education,” Heming said of state programs like Green and Healthy Schools. “(Rydberg) is out there advocating for green schools — she’s out there coaching these school districts in how to do more (for the environment), and we think that’s so important.”