MAILED: Sept. 20, 2001
EAU CLAIRE — The National Geographic Society
and the Wisconsin Geographic Alliance, with the passing of the state budget
Aug. 30, launched a $1 million endowment to boost geography education in
Wisconsin local schools.
Gov. Scott McCallum included the geography education
funding bill in the 2001-03 state budget, making Wisconsin the 20th state in
the nation to receive an endowment from the NGS Education Fund to support the
teaching of geography in primary and secondary schools.
The NGS will match the state’s one-time $500,000
allocation, dollar for dollar, and all income from the endowment will funnel
through the WIGA, said Richard Palm, coordinator of the WIGA and associate
professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
The WIGA, housed at UW-Eau Claire, is a 12-year-old
non-profit educational partnership of the state’s K-12 teachers, college
geographers and educators, school administrators and other concerned citizens.
“We focus our efforts on revitalizing the teaching and learning of
geography,” Palm said, adding that the Alliance offers a two-week summer
institute, one-day workshops and in-services throughout the year.
The need to address geographic literacy came about in
1987 after the NGS conducted a geography survey among adults 18 years and
older in the United States. The findings revealed such facts as: the average
American adult could identify less than six of 10 U.S. states; three in 10
adults could not use a map to tell direction or calculate the approximate
distance between two points; only 57 percent of adults could identify England
on a map of Europe; and Brazil was the only South American country correctly
identified by even half of the respondents.
With this, past NGS Chairman Gilbert Grosvenor donated
$20 million of his own money to kick off an initiative to raise the standard
level of enthusiasm for the study of geography in the nation’s schools. The
NGS Education Fund does this primarily by matching grants to a network of
state alliances to support geography education and teacher training.
Every state plus Puerto Rico and Canada have their own
alliances, but Wisconsin is one of only 20 states to qualify for endowment
funds by creating a match for the National Geographic monies, Palm said.
“This is a very exciting accomplishment for us,”
Palm said, adding that UW-Eau Claire now is recognized as the Center for
Geographic Education in Wisconsin.
The WIGA has received $40,000 or $50,000 from the state
each year since its existence, which was matched by the NGS. The difficulty with
this, Palm said, was that each biennium he and other representatives from the
Alliance would have to spend a lot of time talking with state legislators and
traveling to Madison to get financial support for the WIGA.
Since 1997 the WIGA has been trying to get the State of
Wisconsin to approve a Geography Education Fund, as it is called, but the bill
kept dying for lack of action, Palm said. This year, however, the WIGA was able
to garner support from 25th District Sen. Robert Jauch, who attended
UW-Eau Claire from 1968 to 1971.
“Sen. Jauch persuaded Gov. McCallum to include the bill
as part of the Governor’s budget, which was a big plus for us — it meant we
didn’t have to push it through several committees,” Palm said.
Income from the endowment will be used to support and
expand the activities of the WIGA including:
- In-service training programs for teachers.
- Summer institutes on geography and environmental issues for K-12
teachers and administrators.
- Geography Bee for Wisconsin students in grades four through eight.
- Geography Awareness Week each November, where school children from
across the state investigate and share the study of geography with their
- Geofest, an annual convention that brings together Wisconsin K-12
teachers to participate in hands-on sessions to help improve the teaching of
- Badger Basketball Geography, a 13-week program that has students
in grades four through six complete a weekly quiz and mapping activity centered
on the location and direction of travel of the UW men’s and women’s
basketball teams and their opponents.
The NGS will guarantee a minimum of $50,000 annually
until the endowment is fully established. After about four years, the amount
expected to be available to support geography education in the state will exceed
$50,000 and continue to increase each year — assuming the fund’s growth
continues to earn an average of 14.3 percent, as it has over the past 10 years.
“The fund will support the Alliance’s efforts into
perpetuity, so that future generations will benefit from the state’s
investment,” Palm said.
“It’s a great deal for kids and teachers as well as
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Sept. 20, 2001