With the shared goal of greening their school’s culture, curriculum, and infrastructure, teams of dedicated educators from four Greenpoint Eco-Schools –PS 31, PS 34, PS 110, and MS 126–came together last week to participate in a professional development course focused on Education for Sustainability (EfS).
The three-day training, called the Summer Institute, was facilitated by The Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF), and part of the National Wildlife Federation’s Greenpoint Eco-Schools project funded by the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund, the State Attorney’s General Office and Department of Environmental Conservation. The Summer Institute connected teachers, principals, and newly-hired full-time Sustainability Coaches who will work collaboratively to integrate sustainability into all activities at their schools as part of the Greenpoint Eco-Schools project.
Education for Sustainability explores the interconnectedness between the environment, economy, and society and is the foundation through which these Greenpoint schools will build this holistic environmental education program. Facilitated by CELF, each school team defined what sustainability meant to them, their community, and worked together to create a sustainability mission for their school. Teachers from MS 126 put their own spin on the exercise and wowed the room by creating a rap to help them communicate their definition of sustainability.
Once the language of sustainability was established, sessions moved quickly on to activities that demonstrated interconnectedness and the power of systems thinking and problem- and place-based learning. Participants engaged in numerous hands-on activities, including an exploration of the Greenpoint community during a “Questing” activity. All activities provided teams with tangible lessons that they can bring back to their classrooms in the fall. Guest presenters, including teachers from NYC Eco-Schools the Brooklyn New School, United Nations International School (UNIS), and the NYC iSchool demonstrated how they connect the big ideas of sustainability to their curriculum to enhance student learning. Idoia Tapia Rubio, a teacher from UNIS, shared a video created by students in her Spanish language class. The students made the video in Spanish with handwritten English subtitles and addressed issues like cycles and limits, plant life, and composting while making cultural and community connections.
CELF and Eco-Schools teams were inspired by the collaborative work sessions; the sustainability teams quickly transitioned to thinking about integrating the concepts into their learning communities. Alan Cass, CELF’s Director of Education and former teacher, described his role as, “using a constructivist approach, providing tools to help teachers accomplish their goals.” Cass continued, “Teachers may come in with concerns about testing and classroom management, but they walk out with a renewed sense of purpose as they begin to see their curriculum through the lens of sustainability, we provide the frameworks, examples and expertise to support them.”
NWF Sustainability Coaches, working in partnership with their Eco-Schools teams, will spend the next several weeks planning for a September implementation of the Greenpoint Eco-Schools project at each of the four schools. When asked to describe one word that defined their experience during the Institute, the Coaches replied, “Empathy,” “Fun,” “Inspiration,” and “Teamwork.”
Sarah Ward is a project manager at the Eco-Schools Program, operated by the National Wildlife Federation.