CLEEN in the classroom
By Jennifer Carpenter
A loud cling echoes down the halls of the Gjergj Kastrioti School in Lezha – teachers ringing brass hand bells summon children into their morning classes. Suddenly, a hundred primary school students flood the hallways, scrambling in every direction for their next lesson.
Among the masses of children, about thirty adults weave through the crowded halls and file into an empty classroom. These older learners are primary school teachers in the Child Led Environmental Initiative (CLEEN) education program – organized by the Institute for Nature Conservation in Albania (INCA). Through this program, educators “learn how to teach” topics such as conservation, recycling, and sustainability.
“Welcome, class,” said Albana Markja, the CLEEN teacher-training instructor.
Her adult students scramble over the little desks and stand to attention – smiling at one another. Markja plays along:
“Why is the environment important to you?”
It’s time to learn.
Now in its third year, INCA’s CLEEN teacher trainings have already reached out to 1,396 teachers from five major hubs (Tirana city limits, greater Tirana, Shkodër, Lezhë and Korça). These teachers have been charged with implementing CLEEN in the classroom, as well as sharing this knowledge with their colleagues and superiors.
For most teachers, this is an unfamiliar and daunting task. CLEEN is the first formalized program to introduce environmental education into the Albanian school system.
“When environmental education was introduced to me at first, I wasn’t so clear,” recalled Liza Gjini, one of the first CLEEN teachers trained at the Gjergj Fishta School
“It is difficult for my generation to understand the importance to environmental education because we never learned about protecting the environment when we were in school.”
“I remember not knowing how to express to students, let alone myself, the importance of protecting the environment,” added Mira Vukaj, who earned her CLEEN certificate last year. She now brings CLEEN into her fifth grade class two times a week – and relies on student input as much as her teacher’s manual.
Last week her students created posters on alternative energy sources and presented them in class.
“They got information from the Internet and we had a class discussion. We talked about hydroelectricity, solar panels, and wind farms,” Vukaj explains,
“It’s a good opportunity for me to learn from my students.”
Not only are teachers collaborating with students, but the surrounding community is learning as well. This year, INCA and CLEEN have teamed up with the municipality of Lezhë to organize recycling pickups at the Gjergj Fishta School. Every month, a mountain of plastic bottles amasses in a large crate on the playground. Gjini said that at first, some residents were surprised to see children searching for “common trash.”
“Older people around town asked me if the children were janitors. I said ‘they are not janitors, they are recycling!’” Gjini laughed.
Other people in Lezhë were quick to realize CLEEN’s value within their community.
“Last month one of my students posted a sign in his apartment building explaining the project, and asking residents to leave plastic bottles outside their doors for him to collect. The next day, he came to our classroom with a huge bag of bottles. Some of his neighbors had even written ‘thank you’ notes to him.” Gjini explained.
“Anyone can do this. By getting the children to recycle, they demonstrate to the public the simplicity and sensibility of recycling,” added Marie Jakini, a first grade teacher from the Gjergj Fishta School. Yesterday, her two-dozen five year olds painted trees and birds using finger-paint – now proudly displayed on their classroom walls.
Jakini is impressed by her students’ enthusiasm for protecting the environment, and in their efforts to bring the knowledge home.
“My students convey what they learn to other children – bigger or smaller. They bring it home to their parents and siblings. Even the youngest children can share important ideas to their families,” said Jakini.
With finger-paint and a few questions, even five year olds can change minds.
“I am a teacher and a parent. I know parents try to understand what their children are learning,” said Vukaj
“If the children learn something the parents will too.”
“That’s the whole point of the CLEEN’s ‘Child to Child’ approach,” explained Markja.
“It’s designed to spread information first to the children, then to the families, and together they will start a change within the greater community.”
But before CLEEN reaches communities, teachers must connect with their colleagues. After INCA’s CLEEN training, these teachers will be responsible for sharing their kits and knowledge with their schools.
“I am energized and excited to apply these activities in my school, and to tell my coworkers about it,” said Silvara Lekoij, from Shengjin high school. By the end of this year, 251 schools in Albania will have at least one trained teacher in charge of CLEEN, including 130 in the countryside.
In addition, Lekoij plans to use CLEEN’s “Child-to-Child” approach to other subjects.
“My class finds chemistry and biology very boring. I think I will try using CLEEN’s techniques to encourage my students to engage more.”
Lekoij and Niuolli work together during the training. They discuss if it is better to teach all environmental systems and terminologies despite difficulty or to focus on the bigger concepts.
“The training was very collaborative. We shared experiences and worked together to identify effective teaching styles.” Niuolli remarked.
At the end of the day, Markja passes out a simple test on CLEEN’s major concepts. Suddenly the room goes quiet as teachers huddle over their papers, whispering questions and answers to one another.
“We were just like our students,” Niuolli laughed.
Meanwhile at the Gjergj Fishta School, Gjini’s fourth grade class starting their CLEEN lesson for the day. Gjini turns from the blackboard, where she has just written “volcano” in giant block letters.
“Why is environmental education important?” she asks. A dozen hands jump into the air. [Listen to the Audio clip]
“I consider myself lucky to be in this program,” Gjini said.
“It’s a pleasure to teach about the environment. It is one of my loves.”
At last, the CLEEN trainees have finished their test. They pass their papers to the font of the class.
“That’s enough for today. Gold stars for everyone,” Markja chuckles. In unison, the teachers stand to attention in thanks – smiles abound.