EFS in Schools: Compass Charter School

Photo Credit: CCS Website

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Today, we’d like to introduce you to Compass Charter School,  a new progressive elementary school located in Brooklyn, NY. The school, which opened in 2014, currently offers kindergarten through second grade, but plans to serve children in grades K-5 at full capacity. Compass Charter School is the result of a 2012-13 journey by three Brooklyn teachers who traveled the nation in search of what is working well in the American education system. Brooke Peters, Michelle Healy, and Todd Sutler called their expedition The Odyssey Initiative (OI) and returned home to establish a school using lessons learned along the road.  “ From our experience on the trip, we decided to start a new school that was progressive, inquiry based and one that connected with authentic experiences in the real world,” explains Healy.  It soon became clear that a charter school was the best fit for the trio’s innovative philosophy, which required a departure from the traditional public school structure of leadership and budgeting.  

A Mission is Born

Upon their return, the travelers noticedthat a number of the schools encountered on their journey were using Education for Sustainability (EfS) as a unifying framework and ultimately connected with The Cloud Institute.  “It turned out that some of the schools we visited were partners with The Cloud Institute so we got to see the program firsthand and how they worked with Jaimie,” describes Healy.  EfS seemed to connect many of the ideas the trio wanted to focus on for their new school.  “We found that it brought everything together for us.  We wanted it to be natural and have a social justice and economic side,” says Peters.  “EfS helped us get the vocabulary and the framework. It lead us to Jaimie and the mission was born.”

The Road Map Emerges

Intrigued by the EfS standards,  Healy and Peters first attended The Cloud Institute’s Summer Design Studio (SDS) in 2014.  They immediately noticed the SDS was not a typical Professional Development (PD).  “It really was a design studio,” says Healy.  “Jaimie was there and flexible when we needed it, but she was also able to step out if we wanted to do some work designing.”  The two spent the week exploring how to vertically align the EfS standards with K-5 curriculum and integrate Science and Social Studies standards in a meaningful way. “ Even though our school wasn’t approved yet, we just paid for the studio to help us develop what we wanted and where we wanted to go,” explains Healy.  “We added very special foundational things, like overnight camping, a trip to see civil rights things and more, all depending on the units and years.  That was the road map.” Another benefit of participating in the SDS was the opportunity to connect with others doing this work. “We also met some other people while we were there and we got to visit and learn from educators in NJ and other places. So it was a nice networking event as well, “ describes Peters. Once the school opened, the two returned to the SDS to work on unit design, this time accompanied by the school’s new Sustainability Coordinator, Kristen Beneke and a few founding faculty.  Jaimie began monthly on-site coaching to support school leadership and faculty to help build the school, refine the units and focus on content skills and assessment. The team is planning to return to SDS this summer to continue to document and map their curriculum.

An Integrated EfS Curriculum

The Compass Charter School created a curriculum that aims to connect children with the natural world and the systems that sustain communities. Located in one of the most racially and culturally diverse places in New York City, the school takes advantage oflocal resources, such as people, green spaces, architecture and history.  Sustainability is woven throughout the entire curriculum, including a twice weekly Sustainability Studio and ongoing classroom units at least three times a week. Teachers and staff meet every week to plan the integrated sustainability lessons. All curriculum is aligned with EfS standards as well as Common Core and Next Generation Science standards. In grades K-2, students immerse themselves in the natural world and begin scientific inquiry through play, exploration, and hands-on activities. Once grades 3-5 are added, students will participate in civic engagement by researching natural and built environments, and designing and implementing service projects within their own community.

Walking the Talk

At Compass Charter School, sustainability education doesn’t end at the classroom door. Green practices are implemented throughout the school such as vermiculture, composting, recycling and even CSA (community supported agriculture) shares distributed at the student-run farmer’s market in the schoolyard. Community members help to provide healthy snacks, cleaning products, and water bottles for the students. The classrooms at Compass offer natural environments that contain wood furniture, plants, and signs made by the students and teachers. Students transfer what they learn in the studio throughout their day at school and at home. Families donate recycled materials for arts and crafts projects and students recycle and reuse materials by transforming them into new objects. Everyday a student comes into school with a new object from nature that they must share or use as inspiration for a piece of writing about the Earth.

The Odyssey Continues

Creating a school from the ground up is as energizing as it is daunting.  “We are riding the bicycle and building the bicycle at the same time,” explains Beneke.  “It’s a challenge, but from it we will create something beautiful.” And they are not doing it alone.  The Cloud Institute’s partnership has been vital to Compass Charter School’s early progress.  “I don’t know where we would be without the dedicated assistance from The Cloud Institute.  It’s the centerpiece.“ says Peters. ”EfS brings it all together.”

For more on Compass Charter School, visit their website.

Education for Sustainability: A Trendsetter in Assessment

Tiger by Bud BlakeFrom classrooms to coffee shops, it seems that everywhere you turn these days, people are expressing frustration about the role that standardized tests play in our educational system.  Parents, teachers, administrators and now even the US government are pushing back on the amount of time our schools spend preparing for and administering this type of assessment. In October 2015, President Obama and the U.S. Department of Education released a new testing action plan, acknowledging that, “In too many schools, there is unnecessary testing and not enough clarity of purpose applied to the task of assessing students, consuming too much instructional time and creating undue stress for educators and students.” This action plan recommends capping the amount of class time devoted to standardized testing at no more than 2 percent and promotes high-quality and innovative assessment practices. In response to public opinion and in anticipation of changes in educational policy, many school districts have already started prioritizing formative and performance-based assessments over standardized testing.

Getting Smarter about Assessment

In the District Administration article, Outlook: Schools push for sensible testing, Jennifer Fink explores this phenomenon, making the case that most people have no objection to some form of assessment, as long as it is aligned to meaningful learning and that it provides useful feedback.  Fink quotes Vicki Phillips, Director of Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as saying, “The question now is, how do we get smarter about assessment?  How do we make standards and assessments more useful, more meaningful to teachers and kids?”

Formative assessments help students and teachers track progress over time, providing ongoing  instructional feedback. “I think a trend that will continue to grow is formative assessments that teachers can access on an ongoing basis, which tell them where kids are so they can adjust practice in real time,” describes Phillips. Performance assessments and portfolio reviews can be designed to give students many ways to demonstrate learning by showing us what they can do and what they create.

Educating (and Assessing) for Sustainability

Education for Sustainability (EfS) is a great fit for this trend since it is all about combining big ideas, knowledge and skill development, with being intentional about the difference we make through our actions. The good news is that we have strong data that shows that EfS improves student achievement, even on standardized tests. However, the sheer panic in public schools over test scores and the related employment implications coupled with the enormous amount of time people have devoted to test prep has severely distracted too many public school educators from being able to focus on educating for the future we want. And that’s bad news—if we want education to contribute to our ability to thrive over time. What is education for if not a healthy and sustainable future?

The District Administrator, the Gates Foundation and others would be very happy to know that Educators for Sustainability already have excellent assessment practices to share.  Here are just a few exemplars from elementary and middle schools:

Compass Charter School, Brooklyn, NY : First graders build, learn, monitor and teach about terrariums to demonstrate understanding of how living systems meet their needs.

Kapalama Middle School, Honolulu, HI: Seventh Graders write extensive research papers and create biomimetic designs that demonstrate their understanding of the science and the design principles of Biomimicry--designs that solve human problems by mimicking the way nature has already solved them-- i.e.,  Water purification, eliminating toxic chemicals [in everyday household items], generating renewable, clean, green sources of energy, eliminating waste, constructing self-repairable buildings, clearing invasive species & cleaning up oil spills.

Marin Country Day School, Corte Madera, CA: Fourth Graders participating in a “Council of All Beings” (they each make a mask and then wear it to council meeting-- to “become” the animal they want to represent) to demonstrate their ability to truly empathize with another living being.

An Invitation

We invite those of you who have (or are looking for) high quality and innovative assessments for learning that authentically measure the extent to which you are educating for sustainability, to keep your eyes peeled and respond to our call for exemplars at the end of June. In partnership with The Journal for Sustainability Education, we are inviting educators worldwide to submit exemplars of curriculum units, courses, assessments, rubrics and other forms of explicit performance criteria, as well as student work samples (with aligned performance criteria) that meet the soon to be published EfS Benchmarks for Individual and Social Learning.  At the end of the day, Education for Sustainability is all about performance, because thinking drives behavior and behaviors causes results. EfS is not an intellectual exercise but rather, to human and other life in perpetuity--a means to a non-end.  The stakes are high and we need to know we are getting the results we need in order to turn “Spaceship Earth” around and head it toward the future we want.

 

- Jaimie Cloud, Founder, The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

 

Teachable Moment: Green Ribbon Schools

This year, for the first time, I served as a NJ reviewer for the U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon School Awards.  It was thrilling.  I never really understood the value of points and awards as incentives to engage folks and improve practice. I am a believer now. In this program, a Green School is defined as having three pillars of excellence:  Pillar ONE: Reduced Environmental Impact and Costs; Pillar TWO: Improved Health and Wellness, and Pillar THREE: Effective Environmental and Sustainability Education. The criteria for Pillars ONE and TWO are comprehensive, and here in NJ, we are working on Pillar THREE to make it as robust as the first two.  

The most interesting part of the process for me was the discourse between the reviewers about the subjectivity of the rubric. The rubric is a tool that guides the committee in reviewing the applications and is modified as the program evolves and grows. This year, we struggled with questions like, “What should we do if a school or district is trying hard and wants to reduce its energy use but has intervening circumstances, such as building a new building, finally getting air-conditioning, or dealing with particularly cold or hot weather the prior year? Could we give them points if they didn't actually reduce energy, even if we know for a fact that they are really, really trying? After much discussion, we had to conclude that evidence is evidence—no matter how hard you try.

It was a tough call. This is where the “different way of thinking” embedded in Education for Sustainability comes in.  If a district wants to reduce energy AND build new buildings AND get air-conditioning, they should be able to do just that.  But first, they need to change their mindset. 

Once they:

  • involve the children and young people
  • calculate the budget of energy, time, bio capacity and money that they have to work with
  • learn to tap the power of limits 
  • make small changes for the greatest effect
  • eliminate waste 
  • set a goal of 80% reduction in CO2 emissions and then track their progress toward that goal
  • think differently about how they are going to solve more than one problem at a time and minimize the creation of new problems 

Then they can have it all—albeit not necessarily all at the same time.

Change the mindset, change the world.

 

- Jaimie Cloud, Founder, The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

STEM, STEAM or STS?

When I first heard about STEM, I thought, “Oh—it’s the new and improved Science, Technology and Society (STS)!” But no, Society did not seem to play a part in the new equation.  I looked for benchmarks for quality STEM.  And, no again.   Then I asked people about what it really was, and they spelled out the acronym for me: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  I knew what the acronym stood for, I wanted to know what it meant i.e., what goal it was in the service of, and what problem it was designed to address.  I discovered it was generally understood that our students were not performing well in science and math compared to many other countries with whom we were competing in the global market place.  STEM seemed like a robust way to address that…problem?  symptom?

Then I heard that a significant investment of funds was to be made by government and private institutions to support STEM initiatives that increased students interest in, and preparedness for Job Readiness in the 21st Century.  OK—That I could understand.  That seemed like a good idea.  If we want education to contribute to a sustainable future for us all, we will need to design and re-design infrastructure, buildings, food and transportation systems, and we will have to be cognoscente of the Earth’s carrying capacity.  If we had all been able to “do the math” since the turn of the century, one could argue that we would not have exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity in the 1980s.  Doing the math helps us identify and tap the power of limits.  So I began to think I understood what STEM was for.  As I continued to look for quality criteria for STEM programs, I came across the idea of STEAM. Since the arts have been so marginalized in our schools systems, I thought it was a creative idea to make sure arts and creativity was added to STEM to make STEAM.  Of course once you add the arts, then all you have to do is add the Humanities and you have school—all over again. 

So, why not make the same significant investment in transforming our schools into learning organizations that can prepare our students to thrive in the 21st Century? When that happens, students experience truly interdisciplinary design challenges that weave together the science, technology, engineering and math with creativity, ethics, systems thinking and anticipatory thinking, for example.  When that happens, students seamlessly move from class to class weaving together the experiences they are having into an integrated and whole understanding of what they are studying. When that happens, it is obvious that what they are learning in school is relevant and meaningful, applicable and transferable to life outside of school and over time.  And when that happens, our students will be more likely to contribute to a healthy and sustainable future for us all. 

- Jaimie Cloud for The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

Want a Sustainable Future? Educate for it!

Repost with permission from: http://blogs.bard.edu/mba/2015/06/16/want-a-sustainable-future-educate-for-it, & https://christinelizblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/want-a-sustainable-future-educate-for-it
Published June, 2015. Written by Christine Kennedy

Jaimie Cloud, Founder of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, with other education reformers, is looking to change K-12 education to create citizens ready for the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.  She has built principles and curricula supporting Education for Sustainability. The list of school districts that she has helped transform are on the Cloud Institute website’s client list.

Education for Sustainability stands in contrast to Educating about Unsustainability: the depressing story of how much is wrong with the world and how horrible we are as humans for destroying the planet and each other.  While many feel that “fear, doubt and uncertainty” is an effective way to wake people up, Cloud believes that it has the opposite effect on the psyche.  The brain shuts down when it perceives a threat and stops participating, leaving the body to fight or flight.  A disengaged brain is not effective if you’re trying to change mindsets. Jaimie tells a story about her preschool daughter coming home sad that “air pollution is bad.”  She didn’t fully understand why or even what air was but while she knew that bad stuff was out there, she didn’t know what she was supposed to do about it. What a burden for a 3 year old!

Educating about Sustainability presents a hopeful view of a new future: good food, community, living within planetary boundaries, meaningful work, and joy.  Jamie feels, however, that prior efforts at this lacked the competencies for building this wonderful future. She has set out to remedy that.

Educating for Sustainability (EfS) is based on the belief that we must create new neural connections.  Cloud suggests “an alternative to the air pollution story teaching children about the reciprocation of plants and humans:  humans breathe out CO2 which plants use to create food and give out O2 that humans can breathe in to support life.”  What student wouldn’t appreciate plants after that type of lesson? Of course this is a very simplistic view of the CO2 problem, as it relates to climate change, but it’s a foundation level appropriate for pre-school that can then support advanced learning in planetary systems as a child progresses through school.

Cloud’s journey toward EfS begins in Evanston, Illinois, as a student in one of the first Global Education schools.  It was 1968, the Vietnam era. The world was in turmoil, and schools were not immune. Global Education was created by professors at various universities with schools of education who came to believe that U.S. schools didn’t prepare their students for the complexity, diversity and uncertainty of the world around them. They came together to create curricula to ready students for the 21st century, which was still 30 years away.

Students, even as early as 6th grade, began to track data about the planet: the loss of languages and biodiversity, the changes to the atmosphere.  The data they collected showed that many aspects about our planet were in decline. Cloud felt like “the boy in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Didn’t anybody else see the problem?”

In 1987 with the Brundtland “Our Common Future” report that there was a name for this: unsustainable.  The 1992 Rio Summit then created Agenda 21, a roadmap for sustainability.  Within this was Chapter 36 delineating the first set of competencies needed to educate young people for the future.  Using her early schooling and the UN’s new competencies, Cloud began collecting and collating curricula for Educating for Sustainability from around the globe: working with NGOs, University Centers, Ministers of Education, local schools.

Today, there is more pressure for schools to reinvent their curriculum through the lens of sustainability.  The Center for Green Schools from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has a goal that every school becomes a green school in this generation. The U.S. Department of Education has set 3 pillars to define a Green School: 1) health of occupants, 2) green building and 3) curriculum and instruction.  The first two pillars have more data and better defined standards. The third pillar is less defined and caught in the trap many feel that that EfS, Educating about Sustainability and Education about Unsustainable are equivalent. Outcomes of these different pedagogies need field analysis.

A three issue series in the Journal of Sustainability Education, seeking to bring the field together in a coherent manner, is being guest edited by Cloud.  The first was issued in late 2014. The theme is an invitation to scholars and thought leaders to weigh in on the essentials. A matrix of their work was created that spanned nine competency categories. The second issue, currently being edited, is a meta-analysis of the information received using grounded theory methodology to create benchmarks and measure impact.  The third issue will call for exemplars based on the nine competencies matrix and the meta-analysis.

What Cloud is doing is somewhat risky. Even Cloud Institute’s framework could need to change based on the creation of the new pillars. “But it’s worth the risk so that there can be a meshed framework”, says Cloud.  She believes that “one big area that needs to be included as a standard now as a result of our consensus process is the epistemology of thought: cognitive frameworks or ‘thinking about thinking.’ ”. It is difficult to shift mental models if you can’t recognize them or have language to describe them.

With all this is exciting work, there is still frustration.  Many sectors—government, business, energy, food, design—are addressing global un-sustainability, but to date, K-12 education has not been invited to the discussion table. There is little investment from the corporate or philanthropic worlds. Cloud has three ideas for why this is the case:

1)   Education, for good reason, is not considered innovative. For many, school was the least creative experience of their lives and they’ve had to unlearn mental models that keep them from building a sustainable world. To transform society we need to transform education. This is a daunting task.

2)   Investment in education is considered a 20-year payback and there aren’t 20 years to make the shift. “This is a classic misunderstanding of the power of youth leadership,” says Cloud. Young people are not afraid of innovation and their minds are creative, as long as they are given permission to use them. Adults who will not change their mindset for their own sake will break through mental brick walls for their children. See organizations like Teens Turning Green or Two Angry Moms.

3)   On the school side, branding as “Education for Sustainability” sounds like there is an agenda.  However, once educators see the curricula and programming they realize it is a curriculum based in meta-cognition, science, math, humanities and everything that goes into a good education.

The biggest barrier is understanding what EfS is all about. The EfS standards complement and can help make come alive the non-negotiable standards being imposed on school districts.

Some of the most enthusiastic supporters are underserved communities. The whole idea of sustainability is built around a positive reinforcing loop of justice, community health, and elimination of poverty. For teachers, it’s not just another set of standards they need to meet; teachers are remembering why they became educators.

I can’t help but be excited every time I talk to Jaimie. It is “joyful work” for her.

How can we all help her bring the vision of EfS to life? As a parent, you can encourage your local schools to engage in the EfS revolution. As an educator, build the competencies into your curriculum.  As a sustainability leader, bring educators to the table. As a citizen, support and advocate for systems that make a difference.

Originally published on Fairy Ninjas, Christine Kennedy’s personal blog. Christine is a scientist and engineer who sparks connections between people and ideas. She has experience with product development and sustainability impact metrics. Her objective is to make science accessible and relevant to a diverse population driving better social, economic and environmental solutions. She completed her Bard MBA in Sustainability in May 2015. You can follow her @CKennedySTEM