Former first lady Laura Bush choked back tears at an environmental summit here Friday as she talked about looking forward to spreading a blanket on the grass and pointing out constellations in the night sky to her grandchild.
It’s something her mother had done with her and it helped instill a deep appreciation of nature, she said.
“As a soon-to-be grandmother, I like to imagine lying on a blanket with my grandchild — I’m sorry,” she said, briefly overcome. “To look at the stars — and that’s my hope for every Texas child. That he or she comes to know the joys of the natural world and the simple pleasures of playing outside.”
Described as a “tireless advocate” for conservation efforts, Bush was the keynote speaker for the coalition of groups from all over Texas working to roll out an environmental literacy plan to educate every Texan about natural resources and the importance of connecting with nature. The summit ends today.
She helped start the nonprofit Taking Care of Texas, which focuses on education and conservation efforts.
“The Texas outdoors is being lost to children and to future generations,” Bush said. “Nature and the natural world are like a foreign language to many of today’s children in Texas and, indeed, around the nation. An elementary school child now spends less time outdoors than any other generation in human history.”
The environmental literacy plan is a first for the state and the summit at the TriPoint Conference Center marks an important moment in getting organizations with the same goal on the same page, said Koy Coffer, an education specialist with the Texas Wildlife Association.
“Just looking in here, you’ve got ranchers, teachers, conservation groups, natural wildlife centers, the zoo, people who grew up hunting and fishing with their mommas and daddies and it doesn’t get better than this,” Coffer said. “We can’t do it on our own. We need everyone.”
Dozens of organizations, including locally the San Antonio River Authority, Trinity University, the San Antonio Zoo, UTSA, the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Water System and others, sent representatives to brainstorm.
The groups will hammer out an action plan for six main goals, including fundraising and getting the subject taught in schools.
“We want to prepare an environmentally literate citizen in the state of Texas,” said Christine Moseley, an associate professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Bush called the plan a “blueprint for sharing the natural beauty of our state with every child” and linked increasing urbanization to a rise in learning disorders.
“The more time spent outside, the better the achievement levels” in schools, she said.
Bush held a captivated audience as she reminisced about her days growing up in Midland, gazing at stars on summer nights.
“Beside me, my mother would point out the constellations like Orion or the Little Dipper and she’d spot the planets — Venus and Jupiter — and she’d say ‘Laura, look at the sky because it won’t look like this, exactly like this, again for another year.’”
– Maria Luisa Cesar