Over the last three years, Environmental Charter School (ECS) has had the exceptional opportunity to be part of the Green & Healthy Schools Academy’s School Sustainability Culture Program. According to the GHSA site, this program is a two-year, hands-on, immersive learning community that assists schools with integrating sustainability into their buildings, curriculum, and culture through inspirational, comprehensive, and developmental lectures, workshops, technical assistance, and projects that catalyze positive transformation.
Through the Green Building Alliance’s Inspire Speakers Series, nationally renowned thought-leaders are brought to Pittsburgh while local sustainability advocates are also highlighted. During this time, ECS has had the opportunity to work alongside David Orr, Marjora Carter, and Antwi Akom, just to name a few of the many excellent minds who have visited the city throughout this series. Each month, teams from a variety of regional schools gather the morning after the Inspire Speakers Series to delve deeper into each sustainability topic presented.
Through this journey, there has been a resounding belief that surfaced again and again — all students deserve access to healthy and high-performing places to live, play, and learn. As the Environmental Charter School, we have a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of these types of initiatives. We are in service not only to our own students, but also to the greater Pittsburgh community to help create the kinds of places in which children deserve to learn.
ECS had the honor of hosting students from Pittsburgh’s Langley K-8 in order to help facilitate such learning opportunities. This occasion arose from the partnerships and relationships developed within the School Sustainability Culture cohort. Langley students shared their experiences about running their own greenhouse, had opportunity to learn from our Edible Schoolyard instructors, and joined ECS student ambassadors for a hike through Frick Park.
Early on in the program, I began to understand that the process of creating an environmentally conscious learning environment was not going to be as simple as buying a rain barrel and placing recycling bins throughout our buildings. If we put a recycling bin in front of our students and merely told them it was “the right thing to do,” we would be doing them a great disservice. We would be missing the opportunity to teach them about the purpose, or the “why,” behind this type of work — the gritty, unglamorous, sweaty work that doesn’t always garner the desired results right away, and that often requires dedication and continual effort. As Marjora Carter reminded us when she visited Pittsburgh: in order to succeed while doing this type of work, you need to “fall in love with trying.” Over and over. There is a natural connection between sustainability and community engagement, and we must continue working together in order to achieve our greatest success. Whether it is teaching students the purpose behind a recycling bin or collaborating with other schools in the area, we can create learning environments where students are given the opportunity to become stewards of their environmental landscape.
As David Orr says in his essay “Slow Knowledge” about this type of change,
“Given the complexity of the world and the depth of our human frailties, this takes time and it always will. Mere information can be transmitted and used quickly, but new knowledge is something else. Often it requires rearranging world views and paradigms, which we can only do slowly.”
Our visit from the Langley students represents just that — it is about dissolving the barriers between school communities and making authentic connections with each other as we support our neighbors in this work.