DENTON (UNT), Texas -- The University of North Texas' Science Education Research Lab is seeing measurable results from environmental education efforts the lab has conducted in Dallas schools for a decade.
As a result, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has named the lab a winner of the 2016 Texas Environmental Excellence Award. The TCEQ will recognize UNT and eight other winners May 4 during the Environmental Trade Fair and Conference at the Austin Convention Center.
Operating on a grant from the city of Dallas, educators from the Science Education Research Laboratory have developed and taught water conservation lessons in some Dallas classrooms since 2006.
Last year, Ruthanne "Rudi" Thompson, an associate professor of biology and the lab's director, obtained the 2014 residential water bills for the Dallas neighborhoods around those schools. Researchers found those homes used more than 500 gallons a month less than homes in neighborhoods where children are not receiving the lab's water conservation education in school. They anticipate receiving the 2015 water bills soon.
To ensure an equal and valid comparison, the researchers accounted for family income and the type of housing as well, Thompson said.
"This demonstrates the difference individuals can make in saving water," she said. "When we don't teach these habits to children, we miss out on a huge segment of our population. In adults, you have to break a bad habit in order to teach a different one, but with kids you get to start fresh."
Thompson, with input from teachers from the Denton Independent School District, have developed the curriculum that meets the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards, and the lab sends graduate students who are certified teachers into some Dallas elementary schools.
She said that because of the amount of the savings, children likely are teaching adults in those homes about conservation, and they are practicing it, too.
The lab also conducts a museum on wheels in middle schools and mentors high school students to develop their own water conservation project to present at an annual environmental summit.
The lab also provides many educational resources online through Dallas' Environmental Education Institute.
"The award is a very nice recognition of the work we've done," Thompson said. "This is not just about our education. We were able to show results."