Saint Mary's Establishes New Center for Environmental Literacy

Center Will House International Environmental Poetry and Visual Arts Program "River of Words"

2010 Finalist Nutchanan Ratchakul, age 10 Bangkok, Thailand Demonstration School (Primary) Teacher: Pichai Niyomtham, Image Courtesy of River of WordsMORAGA, Calif. (Sept. 12, 2011) — Saint Mary’s College of California has launched a new Center for Environmental Literacy. The new center, housed in the Kalmanovitz School of Education, will explore and promote educational programming and professional development opportunities for educators to integrate nature and the arts into academic curricula designed for elementary and high school students. Additionally, the center will collaborate with Saint Mary's faculty seeking to merge environmental issues into their research and coursework.

The center will also be the new home of River of Words, the highly acclaimed K-12 environmental poetry and visual arts program. Founded by Saint Mary's alumnus and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and the center's director Pamela Michael, River of Words is internationally recognized for a “place-based” curriculum that engages students, through poetry and art, with watersheds in their communities.

Hass said locating the Center for Environmental Literacy in the School of Education is a brilliant start at the task of developing eco-awareness in the young. "The headlines make it clearer every day that we need to educate our young people for ecological citizenship in a world under duress. To do it we need a potent combination of science, imagination, a feel for the earth, and a sense of ethical accountability and we need to understand how to learn and teach these things together," said Hass. And, he added "the River of Words program, with its thousands of kids participating nationally and internationally should be a wonderful fit inside the new center."

In joining the College, River of Words will also donate the largest collection of children’s art in the world to Saint Mary's. The expansive collection will be available for scholarly research and exhibition through the center.

A private reception to inaugurate the new center and welcome River of Words to Saint Mary’s will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011 at 5:30 p.m. in the College's Soda Activity Center. The event will feature a presentation by Hass, readings by River of Word’s young poets, paintings from the its art collection and discussion of the center's environmental educational goals.

Brother President Ronald Gallagher welcomed River of Words to the College and said the new Center for Environmental Literacy in the School of Education illustrates the College’s ongoing dedication to teaching sustainability. "From the school of science to the school of education our commitment to the environment is deeply connected to our academic and Catholic mission,” said Gallagher. He added “The Center for Environmental Literacy, which will house the River of Words program, is representative of the College’s interdisciplinary focus on preparing students to address the critical environmental issues facing society today.”

School of Education Dean Phyllis Metcalf-Turner agreed, adding the Center will help prepare the next generation of education leaders to address global ecological concerns. "Educating teachers and students for the 21st century involves moving beyond the traditional definitions of literacy to include an understanding of the systems and forces—both natural and social—at work in the world around us, said Metcalf-Turner.

Through an affiliation with the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book, River of Words annually holds the largest youth poetry and art competition in the world, for free. The annual young poets and artists contest —which began in 1995— will continue as a hallmark program offered through the center said Pamela Michael.

"In creating the Center for Environmental Literacy, Saint Mary's has made an important and lasting contribution to education and to the planet. As part of the College, the center will foster heightened environmental awareness in future teachers and provide them with innovative tools and strategies for sharing that awareness with their students," said Michael.

For more information about the reception for the new Center for Environmental Literacy and River of Words children's poetry and arts program at Saint Mary’s College, contact Pamela Michael at 925-631-4289 or email her at


The Saint Mary’s College of California experience inspires learning that lasts a lifetime. For nearly 150 years, the College has provided students with a rigorous education that engages their intellect and spirit, and awakens a desire to transform society. Guided by the Christian Brothers, the Catholic Church’s oldest order dedicated exclusively to teaching, the College enrolls more than 3,800 students in undergraduate and graduate liberal arts and business programs. For more information visit Saint Mary’s College at and just 23 miles east of San Francisco.