“As we start to move into these sustainable practices, we see our children becoming more invested as they do hands-on gardening and hands-on experiences like counting oysters, but also they are mentally engaged and looking forward as they are trying to problem-solve for the future.”

Amy Goods
MS 447 Math & Science Preparatory School
Brooklyn, NY

Leadership Training in Sustainability Curriculum: New York City Department of Education

Recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative 

As a commitment to action project, CELF applied this turn-key model in working with thirty New York City Public Schools over a three-year period.

To kick off the program, teacher teams from participating schools took part in an intensive three-day professional development program for sustainability education integration. During the workshop, participants received:

  • Training and curriculum development expertise demonstrating how EfS supports educational goals and enhances efforts in STEM subjects.
  • Assistance with curriculum development that supports individual school goals, inspired by the principles of Education for Sustainability and consistent with the new Common Core state standards.
  • Strategies to connect EfS principles to each participant’s subject area and grade level and to map concepts across the curriculum.
  • Best practices in EfS student assessment based on the CELF student performance indicators rubric and the NAAEE Framework for Environmental Literacy.

After completing the workshop, teacher teams worked with CELF project leaders to set goals for how they planned to incorporate sustainability into their curriculum and communities. CELF leaders followed up with site visits providing support and guidance throughout the academic year. During the program’s second year, new schools were paired with mentor schools that had succeeded in year one.

Using an EfS framework, students became active stakeholders in local environmental, social and economic justice service-learning projects. See a Sampling of Projects presented at the culminating Sustainability Fair event. In addition to the projects that each school implemented, an independent evaluator from the Harvard Graduate School of Education measured significant teacher gains in the following areas:

  • Participating teachers came away with higher understanding of EfS content knowledge and made significant gains in three essential EfS teaching areas: use of community and place in lesson plans, engaging in systems thinking and in teaching about specific sustainability issues.
  • Teachers also had a measurable increase in their use of STEM activities and place-based learning to teach the Big Ideas of Sustainability.

CELF continues to train NYC teachers by offering professional development programs through the DOE.

The CELF-Sustaining Education Program

In 2006, the Scarsdale School District took the groundbreaking step of initiating a district-wide program for sustainability education. Few public schools had such programs at the time. Together, we formulated an action plan, determining that the District needed to focus on three broad areas — its own ecological footprint; curriculum mapping to identify where sustainability content was already being addressed and opportunities for integration; and staff development.

With support from CELF, the District became one of four nationwide to receive an EPA-sponsored sustainable leadership grant. The grant allowed them to put together a 5-year strategic plan for their sustainability education program.

CELF offered on-site professional development workshops for teachers and administrators through the Scarsdale Teacher’s Institute. More than 75 teachers have gone through the training, tremendously broadening the scope and number of people in the District committed to the program. By 2009 CELF’s teacher training program resulted in a cadre of turn-key trainers within the District.

The District’s other sustainability activities to date include:

  • Participation in CELF’s Students for a Sustainable Future EXPO;
  • A CELF Eco-Footprinting  Program;
  • Organic gardens at every school (the high school brings produce to a local food bank);
  • Green clubs in each of the seven schools, heavily involved in recycling and starting to reduce their use of plastics;
  • A Board of Education resolution that Scarsdale will reduce its carbon footprint by 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, a significant reduction for a community that has grown considerably since 1990;
  • A planned energy control program, to be paid for through energy savings, including new thermostats and lighting, and improving the tightness and insulation of the envelope of each building.

Many teachers have now introduced sustainability concepts in their classroom, and formal curriculum change is happening over time. The teachers who are active in sustainability education are serving as models and inspiration for their colleagues to understand how and where Education for Sustainability fits across disciplines and grade

Educators Learn Best Practices for a new Era in Sustainability Education

The College of New Rochelle has developed one of the first programs to build environmental literacy of students in an undergraduate teacher certification programs. The initiative started when Dr. Diane Quandt, Chair of the Education Department and Dr. Faith Kostel-Hughes, Director of Environmental Studies, attended CELF’s Summer Institute, where they learned about sustainability activities appropriate for elementary school students, and wrote an extensive curriculum for their undergraduate students. Then they set about making it a reality.

The environmental education program for undergraduate students models the integration of environmental education in the classroom by infusing environmental content into the teaching of educational concepts to their students. For example, the students’ unit plans are based on an environmental topic. They learn about climate change while learning about vocabulary instruction.

The College has also added two new one-credit courses to the education major, one focused on the challenge of teaching about climate change, and the other specifically on teaching the Hudson Valley.

Other faculty members at the College have become involved in these teaching efforts as well. The program received a faculty fund grant to share their experiences and findings through conferences and publishing. Dr. Quandt and Kostel-Hughes are planning to present at conferences as well as publishing their work so other Colleges can create similar pre-service training programs in sustainability.

Sustainability Ed Inspires Gains in Essay-Writing Skills

With guidance from Scott Beall, a CELF curriculum consultant, a fourth-grade ELA teacher reframed her curriculum on thesis statements around sustainability themes and documented major improvements in students’ skills in essay writing. The teacher said she had never seen the kids so motivated, and the students’ thesis statements were on the highest level she had ever seen, coming together effortlessly. The students were actually eager to begin writing their essays.

The sustainability context generated motivation and sense of purpose that helped the students achieve their objectives in punctuation, grammar, word choice, topic focus, etc.