EFS in Schools: Trevor Day School

Today we’d like to introduce you to Trevor Day School, a Pre-K through Grade 12 independent day school located in New York City.  With more than 800 students in a coeducational setting, this college preparatory school has campuses on the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Trevor seeks to educate its students “to achieve academic and personal excellence in an inquiry-driven, idea-rich community. Trevor celebrates diversity of thought, experiences, and culture; promotes compassion, collaboration, courage, and creativity; and develops in children a recognition of their own unique potential as lifelong learners and leaders who act as responsible global citizens in our world.” 

Trevor’s commitment to sustainability is evident inside and outside the classroom.  Jaimie Cloud has been working with the school since 2009, providing training and resources to help the school integrate Education for Sustainability across grade levels and academic disciplines. A member of the Green Schools Alliance,  Trevor recently built a LEED Gold Middle and Upper School Campus. Sustainability at Trevor is a team effort as many stakeholders take an active role in supporting the school’s green practices.  The maintenance department uses green materials and the food service team works with students and faculty on recycling and composting. At the Lower School, students are in charge of recycling paper, while the Fuzzy Greens, an Upper School student-led club, is devoted to raising awareness and positive action in the school community. 

“I knew there had to be more to education than this.”

Newly retired second grade teacher and Lower School Science Curriculum Coordinator Jean Kosky was among the first to catch the “EfS bug” at Trevor back in 2009.  Kosky arrived at the “Intro to EfS” professional development day with The Cloud Institute at the start of a busy school year.  Distracted with thoughts of getting her classroom ready for incoming students, she had few expectations for the day.  Things changed quickly as Jaimie began talking to the group.  “I thought, oh— that is making a certain amount of sense!” recounted Kosky. “Then we did The Fish Game and it was as though she was putting into words all the things that I’d been thinking about since I was very young.  It was as if she was singing my song.”  Like many baby boomers, Kosky had been taught that life was a zero sum game with winners and losers.  “I knew there had to be more to education than this,” she lamented. “And listening to Jaimie articulate it was the final touch for me.” Kosky’s “ah hah” moment that day led her to join the first cohort of educators at Trevor to work with Jaimie to “sustainablize” their curriculum. 

Early adopters move EfS forward

Kosky and her fellow innovators embraced EfS early on, setting an example for other cohorts to follow.  Their work with Jaimie can be seen in Trevor’s already rich curriculum, with Education for Sustainability embeded across grade levels and academic disciplines. Third graders participate in a Hudson River Study, which focuses on the preservation of cultural histories and the impact on sustainable communities.  At the High School, students are learning in real time about Trevor’s new Upper School building on East 95th Street, and its enormous capacity for geothermal heating and cooling.  Kosky initially focused her own efforts on enriching something she was already teaching— her second grade Wolf Unit. Although she had always connected the study of these fascinating animals to the environment, an EfSlens provided the opportunity to incorporate systems thinking, history and social studies, too.  “I never quite got it until I worked with Jaimie. Then I realized it was about more than just having the students become wolf experts,” she explained. “ It was the interconnections to other animals, including humans. You see, the wolf is a keystone species. Teaching the unit though the lens of multiple perspectives helped our students debate and understand why the farmers are afraid of wolves.” The unit also now incorporates the study of shared resources and predator-prey relationships.

Creating a “new normal”requires vigilance

Kosky acknowledged the hurdles she and her peers have faced while building support for EfS at the school.  “I think our greatest challenge is time and energy. If you are in the classroom and teach science, math, language arts and social studies, that’s a lot of different units and lessons to grapple with. It takes time. We have sustainablized a lot of our curriculum, but there’s still much to do.”  Trevor’s use of best instructional practices, such as Backwards Design/Understanding by Design (UbD), student centered learning and interdisciplinary collaboration were well aligned with EfS.  “I think we are really lucky here because we already thought this way, even before meeting Jaimie,” Kosky explained. “She just gave us a wonderful way to articulate ourselves. It’s nice to have a framework to organize it all.”  Jaimie also worked with school leaders at Trevor to adopt policies and practices that support a long term commitment to EfS.  The use of Rubicon Atlas software to document and map curriculum allowed the school to continue to innovate, even when faced with competing priorities and personnel transitions. And it’s not always easy.  Jaimie was recently invited back for a “refresher” to help reinforce EfS principles as some of Trevor’s master teachers have retired and new faculty arrived.

With almost seven years of EfS under her belt, Kosky accepts that this work is never really finished. “Getting comfortable with that and being flexible is a challenge, especially in front of the children,”she explained.  “But this is the world they are going into and we need to model that mindset.”In spite of bleak reports of environmental and cultural collapse heard on the daily news, Kosky is optimistic about the world her students are inheriting.  “We need more schools out there doing EfS.  We all just have to start thinking a little differently.  The paradigm has to shift.  We can do it.” 

Read more about Trevor Day School here. Photo credit: Trevor Day School