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What does Education for Sustainability look like in a classroom? What does it mean to integrate it with existing curriculum? Is it really all that different from what we are already doing? These are questions we are frequently asked, and truthfully, there are as many answers as there are classrooms. 

Education for Sustainability is a teaching methodology that develops critical thinking skills necessary to understand complex, interconnected social, economic and environmental issues. With an emphasis on connecting students to their local school communities, neighborhoods and environments through inquiry, research and action, EfS easily integrates with existing curriculum and standards across a range of subject areas. But, as usual, it is easier to show rather than tell!

Here are some examples of educators who have worked with CELF to better integrate sustainability into their schools, and what that looks like in their classroom communities:

Warwick Valley: Going for the Green! 

Warwick Valley Central School District was the first school district in New York State to win the prestigious Green Ribbon Award.  CELF spent two years working with WVCSD to help integrate sustainability throughout the curriculum across all grade levels as part of a comprehensive Whole-School-Change initiative. 

Hillside Elementary: More than a walk in the woods

CELF spent several months working with Robin Farrell, a K-4 STEAM teacher at Hillside Elementary School in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, to better integrate their nature walk program in neighboring Hillside woods with existing curriculum connected to NGSS standards. This is her first person account of that transformation. 

Putnam Valley: Creating a Legacy of Sustainability (Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly June 2018)

Putnam Valley's sustainability initiatives began with their energy infrastructure. As part of an energy performance contract with Consolidated Edison, their local energy company, the school district was installing a number of energy efficiency projects on several school campuses. The District worked with CELF to better integrate the sustainability changes to their physical plant with their curriculum to engage students in the transformation process. Now the District is on its way to implementing whole-school-change.

Read the June 2018 Catalyst Quarterly article.

Watch CELF’s presentation to the PVCSD School Board about their work.

Yonkers, NY: Using video to connect to place

Thanks to a grant from the Westchester Community Foundation, CELF educators have been working with the Yonkers, NY school district since 2018. Tara O'Gorman participated in both the CELF Summer Institute and in a school-year workshop. She has taken her love of film and video, her training as a National Geographic Certified Educator and her work with CELF to produce interdisciplinary, project-based units that engage her students in lessons that explore issues they care about in their local environment. Check out some of the excellent work her students have produced.

Houston, TX: Fighting for a patch of grass

With the help of a Houston-based funder, CELF has partnered with Discovery Middle School in the underserved neighborhood of Gulfton to explore the environmental assets and challenges in their community, develop critical 21st century skills in communication and research, and cultivate a sense of civic engagement. For the many new immigrant students at the school, securing a patch of green space to play soccer can serve as an important interdisciplinary lesson that builds skills, a sense of community and clear purpose for learning. 

Los Angeles Unified School District: Three Schools 

The CELF-LAUSD Educating for Sustainability (EfS) program worked with three middle schools over a three-year period. The three schools sent 12 teachers and two principals to CELF’s Summer Institute, followed by additional local training, project and curriculum planning support, and regular update meetings. As participants gained experience and expertise, they in turn provided training to other teachers at their schools and shared their knowledge through professional workshops, LAUSD events, and social media. Sustainability teams now include a total of 23 teachers, principals, assistant principals, and other professional staff members. Each school has a Sustainability Coordinator who shares with colleagues knowledge and skills gained from the Institute, coordinates with school administration, and shares their school’s sustainability accomplishments to the education community.

“Participating in the CELF project has empowered my students to be problem solvers and to not only think about themselves but think about the environment and others. They have become more empathetic and compassionate while they learn and solve real-world problems. And that is not an easy task to accomplish.”

Read the CELF LAUSD Status Report here.

Check out this interdisciplinary curriculum unit focused on LA's water system.

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. Teacher teams 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.