By Eric Hogenson, Director of Grades 3-6 & STEAM Innovation K-6
"Sustainability is not an individual property but a property of an entire web of relationships. It always involves a whole community. This is the profound lesson we need to learn from nature. The way to sustain life is to build and nurture community." -Dr. Fritjof Capra
At the end of each school year, we spend time as a faculty and staff reflecting on the past year, highlighting successes, giving commendations, and identifying opportunities. Often times, these conversations lead to the development of focused initiatives and programmatic goals for the following year. For any organization, group-developed goals are powerful, because the grassroots ways in which they evolve lead to true ownership of the action items and hopeful outcomes. This year, much of the feedback from our teachers centered around the need to re-energize our community about environmental education and sustainability. As environmental issues continue to be at the forefront of our daily news headlines and we field questions from curious children about various environmental crises, we should purposefully engage our students in environmental education, which directly supports our goal of raising global and environmentally responsible citizens. A group of classroom teachers has already volunteered to help steer this endeavor and now we will be asking families to help with ideas and resources. If we join together as a community, we can impart to our students the knowledge, skills, compassion, and motivation needed to help them understand and ultimately meet the challenges of our time.
Dr. Fritjof Capra, a prominent systems theorist and ecologist, believes that a community must become ecoliterate if it is to engage in effective environmental education. The first step to ecoliteracy comes from a recognition that students need to experience and understand how nature sustains life. At Laurence, we embed curriculum, notably in our science classes, that describes the delicate systems of interdependence that are crucial for keeping the Earth a sustainable and inhabitable place. However, we can do better at providing students the opportunity to experience place-based nature, and in turn, develop strong values for the Earth. I recently attended a conference where I took a workshop on strategies to help students develop a true connection to the land. Being located in the heart of an urban landscape can make this a challenge, however, I look forward to working with teachers and parents for ways to embed programming that can help achieve this goal. To begin, we must get outdoors with our children and get in tune with nature.
Once community members have established a baseline of ecoliteracy, Dr. Capra says the next step is applying ecological design to make positive action towards sustainability. Put simply, this is how we teach and model sustainable practices. Empowering students to take action and to serve have always been an important part of a Laurence School education. Our students are driven by a cause and by doing good. We already know that children love challenges and this is where we can capitalize as a community. Our teacher leaders have devised our environmental theme to be "7 Shades of Green," where each grade level will identify a sustainable practice that they will work on throughout the year. The goals for each grade level will be to both educate the rest of the community and to devise a service project. We are so excited to see what the students will come up with as they research, design, and execute their projects.
Laurence will also look deeply at our own organizational practices this year as we strive to make our environmental impact a natural consideration in all decisions. We will look at many phases of operations including our paper usage, recycling practices, energy conservation, water use, and ways to reduce waste associated with our meal program. Recently, at summer camp, we abolished all use of mini water cups (we used to use thousands per summer), in favor of campers using their own water bottles and drinking fountains. This simple change resulted in more student responsibility and accountability of their water bottles as summer teachers stressed the importance of drinking water and staying hydrated. As a school, we are committed to taking the lead and modeling responsible decision-making in our community. Please join us at home in making intentional adjustments that will have positive sustainable effects.
We are primed as a school community to make environmental education and action towards sustainability an emphasis this upcoming school year. Ultimately, we want our students to feel connected to the natural world and engage in real world issues that transcend classroom walls. If our learners can relate the relevance of their own habits and classroom studies to the complex environmental issues that confront our planet, our future will be bright, as students cultivate and utilize the skills to be creative problem solvers and powerful advocates. Thank you for joining us in this engaging and important work.