Edgemont Montessori Elementary School Awarded Eco-Schools USA Bronze Award

Repost from: http://baristanet.com/2015/02/edgemont-montessori-elementary-school-awarded-eco-schools-usa-bronze-award
Original Post Date: February 2015

Students, staff, and parents at the Edgemont Montessori School in Montclair are playing their part in reducing waste pollution, protecting trees, and producing less toxic chemical emissions. The school was recently awarded the Bronze Award by the National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA Program. This international program recognizes and provides free resources to schools integrating sustainability into the curriculum and on school grounds. Through the Eco-Schools program, schools select from 10 environmental focus areas or pathways to work on such as energy efficiency, biodiversity, and sustainable foods. This free and voluntary program has been gaining popularity in the Garden State with 122 schools registered throughout New Jersey.

Edgemont Principal Cheryl Hopper says “This award reinforces Edgemont’s commitment to not just teaching our students about the environment and its sustainability, but also living out those lessons in the children’s time both in and outside school. It is testament to our staff, students, and families, all of who have created inside Edgemont a culture of awareness and compassion for the broader world.”

To win the Bronze Award schools must establish an “Eco-Action Team”, conduct an environmental audit, develop and monitor an Eco-Action plan and include the community. Edgemont did just that with students having fun along the way. Starting in the fall of 2013 and continued again in the fall of 2014 the school began work on Eco-School’s consumption and waste pathway, kicking off their program with school-wide education and Recycling Right Challenge contest. The winning classes were invited to zero-waste parties and other prizes were awarded.

“We are excited by what this means for the school and the environment and the students’ sense of environmental stewardship. “says Gloria Lepari, Eco-Action Team Co-Chair and teacher. Suzanne Aptman, Eco-Action Co-Chair and parent explains “It was powerful to see the school come together with such focus and enthusiasm. We have a new waste-reducing program in place. We hope to continually improve it year after year while working on other environmental focus areas.”

Edgemont’s efforts resulted in an increase in classroom recycling rates and reduced cafeteria trash from 3 bins per day on average to 2 bins per day on average. That translates to roughly 20 bins of trash per month that is diverted from the Newark Incinerator and is no longer an additional source of pollution. Edgemont students took special care with plastic bottle caps which create an additional challenge to wildlife in our waterways who mistake plastic pieces for food. Students collected close to 1,000 caps between January and September and have plans to upcycle those caps.

“The Edgemont Montessori School community should be proud of what they have accomplished with the Eco-Schools USA program in such a short period of time. Students can see the impact that they are making with their efforts and that makes the learning so much more meaningful.” says Jennifer Dowd, Eco-Schools NJ Coordinator, New Jersey Audubon.

Edgemont has also started to incorporate waste-free procedures into the school events, especially their big annual fundraiser “Green Eggs and Ham”. About 150 gallons of non-recycled trash was delivered, by committed parents, to a local commercial composting facility after the event.

The school looks forward to setting new goals around waste reduction while focusing on additional Eco-School pathways. Edgemont is also certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat with National Wildlife Federation and just this year was recognized as a Monarch Butterfly Way Station for a newly established butterfly garden and efforts to educate the students around pollinator protection.

There are nine other Eco-Schools in Essex County including Miller Street Elementary School, East Side High School, Greater Newark Charter School, H.B. Whitehorne Middle School, Maria L. Varisco Rogers Charter School, Millburn Middle School, Montclair Kimberly Academy, Philips Academy Charter School, and Watchung School.

The Black Run Preserve - A Suburban Pinelands Oasis

Repost from: http://www.sustainablecherryhill.org/the-black-run-preserve-a-suburban-pinelands-oasis
Original Post Date: September 26, 2013

Unbeknown to most area residents, just two miles from the The Promenade retail complex in Marlton lies over 1000 acres of undeveloped land called the Black Run Preserve. An isolated fragment of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, Black Run is an amazingly diverse and wonderful retreat from the hustle and bustle of fast-paced suburban life that lies on its doorstep.  Though not contiguous with the rest of the Pinelands National Reserve, Evesham Township’s Black Run Preserve boasts a pristine ecosystem accessible to thousands of nearby residents.  

Black Run gets its name from the stream which originates in the Preserve, fed by an underground aquifer of pristine-quality water. Its protected status means this lush, forested watershed is abundant with native species – including at least twenty rare and endangered plants. The absence of urban development has prevented pollution and invasive species from leaving their footprint here, providing an unspoilt natural ecosystem that feels as remote as anyplace along the East coast.

On a recent guided hike led by John Volpa – founder of Friends of the Black Run Preserve – we saw the impressive biodiversity native to the area.  A lush, open grassland savanna is a verdant, exotic landscape reminiscent of the Florida Everglades. Nearby, wild blueberries can be eaten right off the bush. Black Run also boasts rare or endangered hawks, tree frogs, turtles, salamanders and the barred owl. Even in the mid-summer heat, the shady trails of soft, moist peat made for an easy, comfortable hike.

The public may use Black Run for hiking, cross-country skiing, biking and bird-watching, as there are several miles of trails which give access to various parts of the Preserve. The area also provides a unique, hands-on educational opportunity for local schools, who have conducted wildlife monitoring programs here. The Pinelands Preservation Alliance has also held the Black Run Summer Teacher Institute, where local educators and students learned about the ecology of the Preserve from Pine Barrens experts.  

As a newly-emerging public open green space, Black Run also faces some challenges. There is an initiative to establish designated parking areas, as for now users must park alongside the road near one of the trailheads. There are also plans to provide bathrooms as well as to improve trails. Unfortunately, periodic clean-up is also needed for debris left behind by illegal dumping. However, as more people learn about the Preserve, there will be more incentive to increase its accessibility and usability.

You can help support Friends of the Black Run Preserve by becoming a member or volunteering for Preserve maintenance and improvement projects, and also by getting out and seeing this amazing natural treasure for yourself. An excellent five-minute promotional video provides an overview of the Preserve’s history and uniqueness. The public is invited to attend the Black Run Preserve Visioning Event on Wednesday, October 23 at 7:00pm at the Evans Elementary School in Evesham Township, where the public can give their inputto help develop a long-range Master Plan for the Preserve.

So take a step back from it all, and step into the magical world of the Black Run Preserve.

Author: Paul Hanley is a long-time Cherry Hill resident, New Jersey Learner, freelance writer and Environmental Science professor at the Community College of Philadelphia.

EfS in Action: Determining Water Quality

Nancy Kuster is a second-grade teacher and recent graduate of the New Jersey Learns Program. After studying macro-invertebrates the second grade class  went to Green Brook to determine the water quality - which turned out to be good based on the samples found living in it. They also made "up cycled" planters out of water bottles to grow milkweed from seed to attract Monarch butterflies. This is EfS in action.

Beyond Recycling | Art and Sustainability

Beyond Recycling is an artist-in-residence program funded by MetLife and Young Audiences Arts for Learning. Teaching Artists, Eloise Bruce and Zach Green, worked with students in grades 6-8 over a 10-day period to develop an original musical theater piece for younger students about creating a sustainable earth. This project is an outgrowth of YANJ's work with New Jersey Learns (NJ Learns), a program that unites schools and communities to learn and change together to instigate, sustain, and scale up the innovations and best practices that contribute to sustainability and that characterize Education for Sustainability.

Sustainable Jersey and The New Jersey Learns Program

Repost from: http://blog.grdodge.org/2010/02/15/new-jersey-learns-mondays-2
Original Post Date: February 15th, 2010

By Winnie Fatton of Sustainable Jersey

When I first heard about NJ Learns, it was an exciting, untried idea that the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation was supporting. Teams of educators, admins, parents, municipal representatives, and the general public – anyone who was committed to Educating for Sustainability (EfS) – were invited to apply for the program. I was working on “Green Jobs for NJ,” which was a pilot project to infuse EfS into the curricula of Career and Technical Schools. I brought 2 teachers to the first training session – one from the Mercer County Vocational Technical School District and one from Essex County Vocational Technical School District. I felt that it would be a great opportunity to learn from a “master” and to introduce classroom teachers to what I believe should be one of the most important educational themes in our schools.

I believe that sustainability is a theme which offers teachers from almost any discipline a way to get students involved with issues that are significant and relevant to their daily lives and to their future career choices. At career and technical schools, for example, EfS could be incorporated into the construction and HVAC trades (think green, high performance buildings), landscaping (management of stormwater run-off, recapture/reuse of wastewater, xeriscaping and other low maintenance plantings), culinary arts (school gardens, safe food/local food, composting), automotive (hydrogen fuel cells, hybrid cars), or a multitude of other career clusters. These are the jobs of the future.

But green jobs aren’t the only reason to think about sustainability; there are so many other linkages to science, math, English, history, even graphic arts. It takes some creativity, but teachers can develop lessons that relate real time/real world issues to what students are studying. Equally important, teachers can help foster the creative thinking we will need to come up with the solutions to these major challenges.

Now, in my work with the Sustainable Jersey program – a certification program for municipalities in New Jersey that want to go green, control costs and save money, and take steps to sustain their quality of life over the long term – I have the ability to work with a lot of different audiences. Sustainable Jersey offers over 64 different “actions” which municipalities can take to become more sustainable, from creating a Green Team, to doing energy audits for municipal buildings and establishing the carbon footprint of the municipality, to doing communication outreach and education. All of the actions in the program are supported by a series of tools which are available on the Sustainable Jersey website, as well as through training programs and workshops. Each action or “tool” is fully resourced and includes a description of the action: who should be involved, how much it will cost, how long it will take, as well as resources for helping municipalities to complete it.

My initial focus was on helping to develop “tools” which relate to the “education” sector – and in the second round of the program, Sustainable Jersey will be offering information about “Education for Sustainability” as well as “School Based Energy Conservation Programs.” The School Based Energy Conservation Programs focus on helping students, teachers and all school staff members to make behavioral changes, which can reduce energy consumption. Some participating schools have even reduced their energy bills by almost 20% through behavior modification alone. And the Education for Sustainability tool offers ideas and resources for teaching about sustainability, including, of course, the NJ Learns program.

Over 250 communities in NJ have signed up to become certified through the Sustainable Jersey program since its inception in February, 2009. Sustainable Jersey and NJ Learns offer opportunities for communities to share inspire and learn from one another as we all work together toward a sustainable future. By giving people an understanding of why it is important to be sustainable, as well as the tools we need to be a more sustainable society, we have begun to create a process that will foster collaboration, and ultimately, achieve success. The knowledge that there are so many great people out there working toward a sustainable future is very gratifying, and I’m thrilled to be part of it.

* * *

New Jersey Learns introduces teachers and community leaders to Education for Sustainability. Education for Sustainability (EfS) is a whole system approach to schools and communities learning together for a sustainable future and includes the Cloud Institute’s EfS Core Content Standards. The program brings community-based teams to participate in one year of introductory training, implementation, coaching and assessment activities. Want to participate? 2013-14 NJ Learns applications are due March 15th. Apply now.

'Waste Not' Card & Online Game | Play and Learn about Resources and Energy

Waste Not Card & Online Game - A card game in which players learn about keeping resources out of the landfill and using less energy in the cycling process.  

New Jersey Learns associate and Game Designer, Kirsten Bonanza, created Waste Not because it drives her crazy to have to throw things away.  The game itself as a way to explain the possible options available when an object is no longer good for its inital use. The core question of the game - What are you going to do with it? - challenges players to rethink trash as potential and resources.  Waste Not is being made available as a card game for in person play and as an online game.

Kirsten's background is in teaching, facilitating, and consulting.  Her interest in design lies in educating for sustainability and systems thinking.  She also believes that we will achieve a sustainable future more easily by giving people the experience of how a large system (Earth) works in a playful environment. After Kirsten realized that she'd begun work on her 10th idea for a game, that while her heart calls out to teach and work with Entrepreneurs on building their organizations, it is obvious that Game Design is no longer just a hobby or tool for her own personal use.  With her company Create Better Impact Games, Kirsten seeks to do just that - create better impact on the world.

Learn More: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/waste-not-card-online-game

NJ Learns | Smart Growth and Livable Communities

Repost from: http://blog.grdodge.org/2010/03/03/new-jersey-learns-wednesday-edition

Original Post Date: March 3, 2010

By Angela Clerico

In a profession where the goal is to plan better communities it seemed to me that we were going about things the same way we had been for decades. Sure, over time the focus shifted away from sprawling communities and toward “smart growth” – building homes near major transportation corridors, protecting the environs. But, there had to be something more… a better way, still, to create more livable communities and communities that thrive, not just survive.

When I was introduced to the NJ Learns program, I was interested because I had an interest in the topic of sustainability. It has been called the largest social movement this planet has ever seen – only you don’t actually “see” it happening. Millions of people all over the world in town halls, school libraries, and community centers are getting together to implement their visions for change. They’re organizing events to inform their local officials and the community-at-large. It’s a movement alright, and I wanted to learn how to better communicate the concept. I learned more than that!

Participating in the NJ Learns program, I had many “aha” moments. From learning how to teach the concepts about and the data for sustainability to a better understanding of how people perceive sustainability and their concerns for changing behavior, I could see how the shift would not only have to come from the community, but that the local leaders would have to set the example. The lone planner in a room full of educators, I began to see how educating my audience would be a little different since I am not a teacher, per se, but that it could be just as powerful. Now, every time I walk into a planning board meeting the topic of sustainability is on my mind and is communicated through my work.

The hard part is that it is a process and results may not be seen overnight. In the NJ Learns program, we participated in a simulation where, in groups, we were fishermen. We had to fish the ocean in a manner that, with an average replenishment rate, the ocean would remain sustainable. The ocean would continue to produce fish for us to catch to maintain our livelihoods. The problem, however, was the same all around: everyone “crashed the system” by overfishing. It took many of the groups several tries, if not more, to figure out that we just had to make it through the down times in order to remain sustainable. Instead, different mentalities took over. “Everyone else was taking more than their share, so I should too!” “I could see this was not going to work, so I jumped on the bandwagon.”

These mentalities translate right into our communities and it is hard for residents and local leaders to see the benefits, when it is such incremental change.

There are a few popular phrases in local government that tend to set the tone for creating sustainability strategies. One is “How can we get the biggest bang for our buck?” Local leaders want to do right by their taxpayers, providing quality of life, but they don’t want to enforce practices that may cost money. The other is “Let’s look at the low-hanging fruit.” This is a good strategy for getting something off the ground. It is a quick way to get a project done and shows that the local leadership is doing something for the community. It also provides momentum for a larger-scale project that may take more time. However, it often doesn’t take into account the bigger picture.

The topic of sustainability is a tough web to untangle and make sense of. Land use planners are typically the ones to break down these issues and present them in a meaningful way so that local leaders can make decisions. Planners guide the development of ordinances, policies, and regulations, at the same time, supporting community-wide campaigns for residents to become more aware of how they can green their lifestyles. If all planners were speaking a shared language of planning for sustainability, we could create a paradigm shift toward sustainability and livable communities from the top-down and the bottom-up.

My NJ Learns training and practice of the program continues every day I am working to create more livable communities in NJ.

 >  >  >  > Learn more about the New Jersey LearnsProgram<  <  <  <

NJ Learns | From Action to Thinking and Back Again!

Repost from: http://blog.grdodge.org/2010/03/01/new-jersey-learns-mondays-4
Original Post Date: March 1, 2010

David Hallowell

By David Hallowell, President of Sustainable West Milford

When I first learned of the NJ LEARNS Educating for Sustainability opportunity, we were well on our way to making changes in West Milford. We had established a nonprofit called Sustainable West Milford and grown our membership from 6 to over 400 people in just one year. We had a variety of action-oriented and educational programs including: monthly educational presentations; “Buy Local” campaigns; an organic community garden: and an annual GreenFest.

We were excited with the prospect of learning more, getting some new tools, and making some connections with other groups around the state to help move our efforts forward. The NJ Learns program delivered all that and more. I was in the first year of the training, and even continued my training for a second year! Not that I’m all that remedial, (well, maybe a little!) , but that fact is, I learned even more in the second year. And more importantly, I learned different things that have shaped the way I think about sustainability.

After the first year of Educating for Sustainability (EfS), my focus was on using the wonderful tools and information provided to better engage community members and convince them of the need to change their actions, for as Jaimie Cloud points out, “everything you do or DON’T do, makes a difference.” After the second year of the EfS training, I have become keenly aware of the need to change the thinking of our community in order to change their actions.

Often during presentations on sustainability, I am asked to describe what sustainability “looks like” in the community or in a school. My old answer used to include the usual suspects – they recycle, use renewable energy, buy local, compost, etc. In short, promoting different actions. Now, my answer begins with “they think differently – and that thinking leads to different actions”.

The old expression, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” provides a wonderful analogy to describe our shift. We have done a great job of leading the horses (tons of information and reasons why we should be acting more sustainably) and providing the water (actual opportunities to act differently through our programs), but not all were drinking. Many were, and indeed, many more did with each additional opportunity we provided. For example, Sustainable West Milford’s Farmer’s Market initiative was so successful last year that we attracted 14,000 shoppers. That is 14,000 people promoting our local economy, local agriculture, and effectively acting more sustainably.

But how do you get more people to drink the water? The answer is in helping them to start thinking differently. If we follow the problem of unsustainable actions “upstream,” to their source, we find faulty thinking. For example, in our culture, we tend to focus relieving the symptoms of a problem rather than the problem itself – we take a pill to lower our blood pressure while ignoring our lack of exercise, poor diet, and excess weight. This is an example from EfS of a phenomenon called  “Shifting the Burden”. It is an Archetype in the system dynamics lexicon. Using this thinking leads you to working hard to resolve the symptoms of a problem while essentially ignoring the fundamental problem. With that approach, we address the symptom in the short run, but over time, we make it harder and harder to address, and then we create new problems. Similarly, SWM’s efforts have targeted community member actions while largely ignoring changing community member thinking – the fundamental problem.  By addressing the fundamental problem, you can achieve win win win solutions. This is a better idea. [This paragraph has been editted for clarity: original text at http://blog.grdodge.org/2010/03/01/new-jersey-learns-mondays-4]

Make no mistake: this strategy of changing community members’ actions by providing information and opportunities to make real changes has been extremely effective and essential in building momentum, exposure, and support, but like most strategies, it has its limitations. For one thing, it is not fast enough – our window for change is a narrow one, and for another, we can only do so much!

So, this year, in addition to our action-oriented strategy, we introduced a companion strategy to address this need for a change in thinking. If community members change the way they think, they will lead themselves to make the choices that will result in a truly sustainable community. As Jaimie reminded us during our training, there is never just one reason for a problem and there is never just one solution!

 >  >  >  > Learn more about the New Jersey Learns Program  <  <  <  <

Putting Lessons into Learning... EfS in Action

repost from: http://acrossthewatershed.blogspot.com/2012/11/putting-lessons-into-learning.html


Inspired by her attendance at a couple of GSWA teacher education workshop, Great Swamp Watershed Association member and Madison Borough resident Nancy Kuster recently incorporated some of the water education activities she learned into her class at the Sundance School in North Plainfield.  Kuster is a second grade teacher with 15 years of experience, and also serves as a facilitator for Awakening the Dreamer - a non-profit organization that helps people co-create a just, thriving, and sustainable world.  Thanks to her GSWA workshop experiences and a grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, she was able to continue her sustainability education by enrolling in The Cloud Institute’s New Jersey Learns program. Now, she is teaming up with GSWA to develop more ideas for sustainability lessons that she can introduce to her students.


Kuster is developing her new curriculum by introducing year-long, integrated units on sustainability into her daily curriculum.  As she conducts these lessons, she asks her students to think about cycles and systems, including decomposition, product, and water cycles. Along the way, her children have learned that the water cycle is much more than just precipitation and evaporation.  And they have come to understand where their household water comes from and where it goes once they are finished with it.


"Second graders don't typically spend a lot of time thinking about resources and pollution issues," Kuster said, "but they are definitely capable of understanding that we have limited fresh water, and that we need to start taking care of our environment."


After a presentation on water use and the bigger water picture, Kuster's students used their artistic talents and language skills to make a mural explaining the water cycle as they understood it.  They also enjoyed a presentation about non-point source pollution and learned how to clean up after themselves.



In the days and weeks to come, each child in Kuster's second grade classroom will be writing their own "Journey of a Drop"—a story aimed at describing a water drop's long trip from sky to earth and back again.  What a fantastic program our teacher workshops have inspired!


 >  >  >  > Learn more about the New Jersey Learns Program  <  <  <  <

New Jersey Learns Participant Case Story

New Jersey Learns Participant Case Story

FEATURE: Christopher Bickel of Livingston, NJ

New Jersey resident Christopher Bickel was a cohort two participant of the New Jersey Learns program and is today an advocate and activist for sustainability in his hometown of Livingston. Chris is the supervisor for Social Studies with the Livingston School District and has more than 16 years of experience in education. He believes that it’s important for his students to have confidence about the way that they naturally think, in his words, "bring a force to the vision that young kids naturally have." According to Chris, young people are aware of the challenges we face and they know that we can’t keep doing things the same way, but by the 5th grade they lose hope that they or anyone can make a real difference. “Elementary school children know that the earth should be nurtured, I want to give that original conviction backbone and make it stick,” he says. While acting as a supervisor of the Strategic Plan for the Board of Education of Livingston, the educator was successful in getting sustainability written into the curriculum. Fundamentally, Chris’ intention is to reaffirm to young kids that their natural instinct is correct and through “sustainabilized” curriculum, he wants to increase awareness of, and participation in activities that contribute to a healthier future.

While his target audience is K-12 students primarily, his reach has expanded overtime as he has become more involved in and passionate about a healthier New Jersey. Chris’ NJ Learns Community Action Plan centered on Eco-Fairs and he has subsequently organized two such events. Notably, he worked with Project Porchlight, a grassroots program in New Jersey, to distribute energy efficient light bulbs to residents during one of the fairs. While happy with the turn-out and action taken to conserve energy, Chris recognized that he was not addressing the thinking that leads to lasting behavioral change. He was intent to "do something a little deeper."  

Chris was one of the first New Jersey Learners to participate in Earthwatch Expeditions for formal educators funded by The Dodge Foundation. Following that experience Chris published the children’s book The Nest Seekers, a primary level children’s book about an Earthwatch Expedition in northwestern Wyoming in April 2012. In it, he makes the connection between human interaction and bird populations in natural habitats. The book is aligned to The Cloud Institute’s EfS Standards, E) Healthy Commons, G) Inventing & Affecting the Future, and I) Strong Sense of Place, as well as relevant NJ State, Common Core and 21st Century Skills standards. Since the release Chris has spoken at several conferences and made numerous book store appearances.

In addition to his work in school, at community fairs, conferences and bookstores, Chris is also active with The Livingston Green Team, Livingston Citizens Institute and the Sustainability Steering Committee and is working with the Environmental Commission to develop a 5-year strategic plan. Chris estimates that through his speaking engagements and other events, he has reached more than 20,000 New Jersey community members, and he is just getting started!

related story: Donate fresh food? There's an app for that, coming soon from a N.J. man - and former New Jersey Learner! (By Eunice Lee)

Donate fresh food? There's an app for that, coming soon from a N.J. man - and former New Jersey Learner! (By Eunice Lee)

Reposted from: http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2012/10/donate_fresh_food_theres_an_ap.html

food-app-livingston-nj.JPGLivingston resident and volunteer Chris Bickel knows what it's like to go hungry. He spent eight months homeless as a teenager.

ESSEX COUNTY — Want to donate more fresh food to your local pantry? Talk to Livingston resident Chris Bickel — he is working on an app for that.

An active volunteer with local pantries and the first townwide Food Day coming up on Wednesday, Bickel is raising funds to build a mobile app that’s a new twist on old-fashioned giving to food banks.

His app idea, which has gained traction with local pantries, basically creates a "virtual refrigerator" on your smart phone or tablet. The app makes it possible to donate money for healthful foods or actually select the foods — tomatoes, green beans, a dozen eggs.

"The fresh stuff is really what’s going to make people feel better," he said.

Eileen Sweeny, coordinator of Pantry Partners for United Way of Northern New Jersey, has been in talks with Bickel about developing the app and believes it will increase healthier options in pantries beyond Livingston.

If the donor gives money, the donation will be sent directly to the designated pantry or soup kitchen for purchasing fresh food. If the donor purchases, say, two bags of apples or three heads of lettuce, it will be delivered directly to the designated charity by participating stores. Several grocers already have expressed interest, Bickel said.

"I think it has enormous potential," said Sweeny, noting that three years ago United Way began its own push for more items like whole wheat pasta or low-sodium canned vegetables. "It could change what’s in food pantries and soup kitchens across the country."

The app will also feature a dashboard that shows in real time what a charity’s greatest needs are using charts and graphs. Bickel said he needs to raise a few thousand dollars to get the app professionally developed.

Livingston volunteer Chris Bickel knows what it's like to go hungry. He spent eight months homeless as a teenager.

Bickel knows what it’s like to go hungry. Growing up in Ventnor, he was the second youngest of eight children in a household where food stamps put meals on the table. At 16, he was homeless for about eight months and was helped by an English teacher and his rowing coach.

Now the supervisor of social studies for Livingston Public Schools, Bickel, 43, serves as the district’s liaison to the township’s Food Day Committee — which has organized events throughout the month to celebrate healthful food and raise hunger awareness — and has become one of its biggest advocates. On Oct. 14, volunteers including Bickel and the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse filled a school bus full of donated goods for a series of "Stuff The Bus" events around Essex County.

Many times, hunger is a silent problem in suburbia. "Sue," a 48-year-old Livingston resident, is one example. As a working single mom of three, she struggles to make ends meet and receives food from St. Philomena’s pantry. She did not want to give her name.

The economy hit her family hard when her husband, whom she is separated from, had his salary cut in half. That, in turn, slashed the child support she receives.

"My kids are happy with a box of pasta," she said, but as a mother she wants to give them more. "Food is definitely an expense, and I’m trying to make sure they get chicken and all the stuff that they should be getting."

"The money they do have they’re using on taxes or their mortgage, and (residents) scrimp on food," said Sister Barbara Howard of St. Philomena’s, which has partnered with Bickel.

And it’s not easy to rely on food pantries in a well-to-do town like Livingston.

"We live in a town where people have two, three homes or vacation in Mexico every break or get a car on their 17th birthday," the single mom said.

To contact Bickel or support his effort to create an app, send an e-mail message to bicman7@yahoo.com.

Learn more about the Cloud Institute's New Jersey Learns Program: /new-jersey-learns

We Are All In This Together, by Dr. Moira N. Wilkinson

You’ve likely heard that phrase before; it’s a common enough idea with lots of variations on the theme: “All for one and one for all!” “The more the merrier!” to name just a couple. We might get so used to hearing it that we tune out to its full significance.

It’s more than a sound bite or a fun thing to imagine. It is, in fact, a Mental Model of Sustainability. I am totally on board with the goal and still stumble sometimes putting it into action consistently. I’m struck by how hard it is to retrain my brain to shift toward that new way of thinking. Even doing this work full-time, when push comes to shove, sometimes I revert to doing things on my own; which is ironic because it’s precisely when things get hardest that it’s MOST important to bring in your crew.

Inevitably, when the moment passes, I’m left with two conclusions: a) it’s not nearly as fun as it would have been if I’d been doing it with folks along the way, and b) the product would have looked different, and maybe better. Don’t get me wrong—I love the way my mind works and the creative things it thinks of – the thing is I like the way ALL minds work and that each comes up with different responses. So I'm always left wondering, “what if….” How much more creative and win-win the product (insights and responses to the same issue) might have been with more fabulous minds working on it with me? We know that asking different questions and activating the creative process are two good strategies for shifting mental models, so I’ll pose the same questions to you that I ask myself in this situation. Think about them. See what YOU come up with!

What would it mean to our work if we took it to heart that we are all in this together—truly? In a world where we are all in this together there is no “they” only “we.” If we act on the principle of being in this together, how differently would we draw on the support and resources that we offer each other in the NJ Learns Community? What would change in the way we approach the people we want to influence—especially those we seem most UNlike or with whom we disagree the most? (Yes, THAT person.) How would this change your life, or the face of the community you live in, now and in the future?

We’re all still learning how to put this into action and there’s no single correct way to do it. Everyone’s got a good story about how this goes for them, the highs and lows. Check out the story below to get a window into the work of our Hillsborough team to see how they’re working together to build a broad foundation in their town.

In the last four years, sustainability has become a part of everyday language for more and more people. There is more mainstream information and acceptance about the causes of unsustainability, and more resources, like Sustainable Jersey, to help individuals and communities learn about behavior changes that contribute to sustainability. As a result, over the years, the number of applicants to the NJ Learns program has increased three-fold, and the quality of applicants has improved notably. Applicants are clearer in their motivation for doing this work, have diversified teams, and are more organized in their ability to take strategic action toward their visions.

The Hillsborough team is an example of that. Their five person team is comprised of two self-identified “concerned residents” (one of whom is a parent of school-aged children), a School Board Member, a business person, and a public school teacher. This mixed team is an example of how the Keystone Year seeds change on an organizational level by bringing individuals and teams from schools and communities to learn and change together for the shared goal of sustainability. They joined NJ Learns for several reasons, among them that they have strong ties with Sustainable Jersey and had heard Winnie Fatton from Sustainable Jersey talk about the transformational changes that can occur after a team experiences the NJ Learns program.

According to Bill Dondiego, the team’s vision was always about “awareness and support.” At the outset of the Keystone Year, the team had their sights set on systemic change in the town, working together to expand people’s understanding of sustainability to include an awareness that thinking, learning, and education have a role in the shift toward sustainability. Children and young people are pivotal players in this vision. As Bill put it, the “Start young, so they know and respect the Commons. If they respect the Commons, they’ll respect each other.” To that end, each team member is working from their particular place in the system to create conditions for Hillsborough residents of all ages and in all sectors of the city—government, schools, business, etc—to make the connections between sustainability and learning together.

He’s convinced that if they can increase awareness and provide support, “the whole state can move the needle forward. We get to follow in the footsteps of others who went before us and be the next in line to grow this. It’s going to take knowledge, truth, and integrity to achieve our long-term mission.”

This “we are all in this together” orientation, fundamental to EfS, shows up in the team’s actions to make connections across sectors within their town and beyond

Hillsborough’s borders, too, as evidenced by the range of actions below:

  • In town, Bill is applying to be on the energy council in the hopes of creating a nexus between agencies.
  • Other members of the team are participating in the Citizens’ Campaign class for Citizen Legislators to parlay EfS more effectively in the government sector.
  • At the same time, the team recently organized the Central Jersey Green Teams Best Practices Conference focusing on energy, transport, and recycling, and which was attended by about 65 people from more than ten municipalities.
  • They applied for, and won, a “Green Maps” grant with Montgomery, Princeton, and Lawrence to map sustainability along that corridor.
  • They have taken on an informal mentorship role with NJ Learns team from Jersey City, sharing their resources with the relatively less wealthy city to the north.

NJ Learns: Making Bigger Connections Over Time

By Lori Braunstein

As a member of the 2008 inaugural class of NJ Learns, forty other people and I from across the state spent a total of 8 days learning how to talk to my community about sustainability.  Because of my role as community leader, in the years since, I’ve spent time crafting my own skill at sharing the concepts of Education for Sustainability more informally.  In the last three years, I've used NJ Learns tools in my interactions with community members, elected officials, senior citizens, students and others. The variety of audiences to whom I’ve presented hasn’t just allowed me to tailor my presentation skills, it’s also been fundamental to creating a shared understanding about sustainability across these distinct audiences, opening pathways for me and for them to make more connections, find common interests and work together toward our shared goals. 

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Profound Connections

By Chris Bickel

I graduated from the New Jersey Learns program in 2009.  I didn’t know it then, but my understanding of sustainability as it related to environmental literacy would drastically change.  I’ve moved away from compartmentalizing my ideas and actions, seeing instead their inter-connections and interdependence in a more fluid way. Now, I look for broader and higher level ideas and stewardship.  For example, early on I co-chaired two large environmental fairs and a compact fluorescent bulb distribution in the township of Livingston, NJ.  I thought each separate event was a success.  I “checked” it off my list and told myself, “You are doing your part, Chris.”  However, NJ Learns taught me to think “upstream” and go to the source of the problem.  I decided to bring my learning back to my position as a Supervisor of Social Studies for grades K-12 in Livingston NJ.

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Education for Sustainability: Bridges and Solutions from an Intern’s Perspective

As a new intern to Cloud, I knew very little about the New Jersey Learns Program. Words like practicum and indicator were foreign to me. The week prior to the recent NJ Learns meeting, I helped to organize participant practicum information to prepare for their certification. I stared at the mysterious names and read email exchanges describing how these people were incorporating sustainability education into their lives. It was inspiring and I was happy to help Cloud, but I felt removed from what was actually happening with the program. Then the ladies invited me to come to the final day! I was delighted to travel into the ‘field’ and be a part of the action.
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Getting the word out! Creating Awareness for A Sustainable future!

After attending NJ Learns Training at the Cloud Institute last year, I was ecstatic to return to Cranford and begin inspiring students, staff and community members to educate for sustainability. My number one goal was to use what I had learned and share my experiences; I didn’t want to pass up this great opportunity for change. Luckily I was fortunate enough to be able to incorporate all three groups - students, staff and community members - into the NJ Learns practicum I needed to complete for my certification, which helped me to achieve my goal.
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Hands Are for Helping, Not Hurting

I believe, as a teacher, it is my responsibility to prepare my students to become active citizens in our world. They have the power to create both social and environmental change. This project and our school garden help build awareness, responsibility, and action about our school’s cleanliness and its relationship with the environment.
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Networks for Sustainable Action

The New Jersey Learns training has brought together 70 exceptional leaders representing 15 communities in New Jersey (including: Cherry Hill, West Milford, Elizabeth, Livingston, Far Hills, New Brunswick, Green Brook, Jersey City, Bayonne, Trenton and others). As we initially embarked on this journey, the Cloud Institute and our partners set forth that: We would open a program to community teams comprised of individuals who are interested in developing their community’s capacity to make the shift toward sustainability. By linking community efforts to K-12 Education for Sustainability we create a whole community learning environment for systemic change.
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