Oohs and Ahs and Ohs

By Jennifer Carlin|January 19, 2016

Stargazing on an exceptionally clear night. Looking up at a ginormous redwood tree. Walking up to the Grand Canyon for the very first time.

No matter your age or interests, there is nothing like experiencing awe. The best interjections for awe—“ooh”, “ah”, and “oh”—are probably most often heard out of the mouths of babes, but we adults are also lucky to still have our moments.


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Quite frequently the past few weeks, I have had several moments of “ooh” and “ah” and “oh” as I delve deeper into understanding the role Ten Strands plays and the strategies it employs to engage and support its partners as it advances environmental education throughout the state of California. As I transition into the role of Director of Development for an organization which I believe is one of the best kept secrets in environmental education, I am in a constant state of awe—of the organization, of our leaders, our team, our partners, our funders.

To help me articulate why, here’s the definition of awe: A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

I am in awe of what this organization has accomplished in the past three years and what it aspires to do in the next ten. Its mission alone induces awe: to bring environmental literacy to all of California’s 6.2 million K–12 students. You can see on our website that more than 3.1 million lessons have been delivered, almost 10,000 teachers trained at about 2,500 schools. Pretty awesome, right?

Ten Strands has helped bring to fruition significant environmental literacy programs and projects. We were a sponsor of the Blueprint for Environmental Literacy, which articulates the vision that “students in California will become environmentally literate and able to address current environmental challenges and prevent new ones.” Ten Strands supports the work of CalRecyle’s Office of Education and the Environment (OEE) to manage and disseminate the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) Curriculum units. We are partnering with the San Mateo County Office of Education to provide professional development training using the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to connect students to science and the environment in an effective and engaging way of learning.


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Strategic step by strategic step, Ten Strands is developing new partnerships, engaging more funders, and forging new pathways to ensure that every one of California’s 6.2 million K–12 students being taught by 300,000 teachers at 10,000 schools is environmentally literate. That will mean every single student has access to learning science, language arts, history and social sciences through an environmental lens. I keep repeating these numbers to myself and writing them out to comprehend. The goal is a pretty awesome one and inspires our team every day.

What we have to remember about awe is that while it serves an evolutionary purpose and gets us to focus and to be present in the now, recent studies published in Psychological Science show that awe “also prompts us to think in more self-transcendent ways, shifting our focus from inward concern to an outward sense of universality and connectedness.”

The EEI Curriculum units and professional development supported and funded by Ten Strands gives teachers the tools and resources they need to provide their students the opportunity to learn and think beyond themselves in the context of environment-based education (EBE). Today’s students are the future populace, referred to in the Blueprint, who must be environmentally literate so that they have “the skills to understand, analyze, think critically about, and address existing and future environmental issues.”

With three children attending San Francisco public schools, I have witnessed the moment when some of my children’s classmates, who live within 20 minutes of the ocean, mountains and forests, experience awe for the first time ever on class field trips to Crissy Field and the majestic redwoods in Muir Woods. Hearing their “oohs” and “ahs” and “ohs” and even some “wows” as they descend to the beach or run down the trail makes me appreciate my kids’ teachers all the more for providing their students the opportunity to get outdoors, to experience awe, to understand the world is so much bigger than our little corner of the Richmond District and that we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our environment.


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These experiences inspired me to join the Ten Strands team and to become a donor. Now, having been involved for just a few weeks, I more deeply appreciate Ten Strands for being a leader in moving environmental education forward and collaborating with key stakeholders at a strategic, visionary, and statewide level while providing the funding, resources, and support at the grassroots and local levels. It is a delicate balancing act and one that Ten Strands continues to manage well.

Ten Strands is extremely unique in that its work is not inherently about itself as an organization; rather, it is about empowering and setting our partners and key stakeholders up for success by connecting, collaborating, and communicating, all in pursuit of a common goal.

We invite you to join us in our work—as an educator, as an informed citizen, as a donor, as a volunteer. I guarantee you, too, will also find plenty of reasons to ooh and ah and oh.


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Jennifer Carlin
This article was written by Jennifer Carlin

Jennifer Carlin has worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 20 years with a focus on development, fundraising, organizational capacity building, and cultivating philanthropic partnerships. Most recently, she served as Executive Director of the Elios Charitable Foundation. As the mother of three young children and very involved in San Francisco public schools as a parent and volunteer, Jennifer is committed to helping ensure that all K–12 students in the state of California are environmentally literate.


  • Michael Baxter

    Good post. In an age of young people constantly staring down at screens, getting them to look up to understand and appreciate the world around them has never been more important.

    Environmental literacy is essential to citizenship. California is fortunate to have an organization like Ten Strands working to make the state a leader in this area. Keep up the good work!

  • Betsy Rosenberg

    Excellent article and program! We also need to educate adults and raise American eco literacy overall. We simply can’t wait till children come of age and dump a heap of problems on them to “fix”. Not fair and we don’t have time to wait on climate. If my Boomer generation had been taught this properly in school we’d be much better stewards of nature, our life support system! My focus has been on using mainstream news media outlets to reach and teach the masses. Nearly 20 years trying to convince programmers this is important, interesting and inspiring content relevant to all their viewers! Maybe in 2016…