Case Studies - Children's Environmental Literacy Foundation

Case Studies

What does Education for Sustainability look like in a classroom? What does it mean to integrate it with existing curriculum? Is it really all that different from what we are already doing? These are questions we are frequently asked, and truthfully, there are as many answers as there are classrooms. 

Education for Sustainability is a teaching methodology that develops critical thinking skills necessary to understand complex, interconnected social, economic and environmental issues. With an emphasis on connecting students to their local school communities, neighborhoods and environments through inquiry, research and action, EfS easily integrates with existing curriculum and standards across a range of subject areas. But, as usual, it is easier to show rather than tell!

Here are some examples of educators who have worked with CELF to better integrate sustainability into their schools, and what that looks like in their classroom communities:

After taking CELF’s Civic Science Program in 2021, Michael Arratia started various water quality and air quality projects at Lewis Middle School. Students questioned if vehicular traffic and idling impact air quality at school. To help answer this question, the students used Plume Labs Flow Air Quality Device to measure air quality around the school. Another group of students studied Volatile Organic Compounds in the air, which they discovered emanating from cleaning products. The students will continue their projects and plan to collect data on soil, in addition to air and water.

After Ms. Kulow finished CELF’s Civic Science Program, she engaged her online students in an air quality project. The Harmony School campus is situated in an industrial area and at times, the air may smell like chemicals or car exhaust. Ms. Kulow and her students felt it was important to find out whether or not the pollution levels are hazardous to our students’ health. Using the Plume Labs Flow device, Ms. Kulow and her students collected air quality data and discovered that there are short periods of time when fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) was very high. Now that the students are back in the classroom, Ms. Kulow is finding ways to incorporate additional sources of air quality monitoring data and devices into the study.

Ninth grade Earth Science students in the Bronx explored issues of environmental justice and developed solutions for their community. The teacher introduced the topic of air quality in the school community by having her students research the school's place: surrounded by multiple highways, businesses that burn fossil fuels and a lack of green space. The students read about Robert Moses and the purposeful building of expressways through their neighborhood. This led to productive dialogue and brainstorming on solutions.

Ninth grade Earth Science students investigated air quality in urban communities impacted by COVID-19. This topic immediately felt relevant to the students. Using CELF's Inquiry to Action framework, they explored the link between long-term exposure to poor air quality and higher rates of respiratory illnesses and susceptibility to severe complications from COVID-19. Students shared and revised their research through interaction with an atmospheric scientist and presented their research and solutions at CELF's virtual Student Symposium.

Over the course of two years, fifth grade students at The Chapin School, a New York City-based independent school, engaged in a project-based learning unit connected to the Science curriculum, to gain an understanding about the air quality in their community. As they measured and analyzed air quality parameters, students were inspired to take action to improve air quality both at school and across the boroughs of New York City. When the second year was interrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, teacher Anna Jacinta Mello rose to the challenge and adjusted activities so that students could continue their research virtually.

The New York City Department of Education enlisted CELF to provide Leadership Training in Sustainability Curriculum. As a commitment-to-action project, CELF applied this turn-key model in working with thirty New York City Public Schools over a three-year period. Teacher teams took part in an intensive three-day professional development program for sustainability education integration.

The CELF-LAUSD Educating for Sustainability (EfS) program worked with three middle schools over a three-year period. The three schools sent 12 teachers and two principals to CELF’s Summer Institute, followed by additional local training, project and curriculum planning support, and regular update meetings. As participants gained experience and expertise, they in turn provided training to other teachers at their schools and shared their knowledge through professional workshops, LAUSD events, and social media.

CELF in our Schools

Hillside Elementary

CELF spent several months working with Robin Farrell, a K-4 STEAM teacher at Hillside Elementary School in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, to better integrate their nature walk program in neighboring Hillside woods with existing curriculum connected to NGSS standards. This is her first person account of that transformation.

CELF in our Schools

Yonkers, NY

Thanks to a grant from the Westchester Community Foundation, CELF educators have been working with the Yonkers, NY school district since 2018. Tara O'Gorman participated in both the CELF Summer Institute and in a school-year workshop. She has taken her love of film and video, her training as a National Geographic Certified Educator and her work with CELF to produce interdisciplinary, project-based units that engage her students in lessons that explore issues they care about in their local environment. Check out some of the excellent work her students have produced.

CELF in our Schools

Houston, TX

With the help of a Houston-based funder, CELF has partnered with Discovery Middle School in the underserved neighborhood of Gulfton to explore the environmental assets and challenges in their community, develop critical 21st century skills in communication and research, and cultivate a sense of civic engagement. For the many new immigrant students at the school, securing a patch of green space to play soccer can serve as an important interdisciplinary lesson that builds skills, a sense of community and clear purpose for learning.

Students were provided with “AirBeam” air quality devices and mobile apps used for monitoring data. Mount Sinai Health System provided research on the impact of air pollution on human health and CUNY Law School helped make connections on how public advocacy can lead to legislative change. CELF staff worked with these professionals and middle school teachers from NYC DOE public schools and several independent schools to develop a citizen science unit that is easily integrated into existing curriculum as a place-based action research learning opportunity.

Whole School Transformation

Putnam Valley Central School District

Putnam Valley's sustainability initiatives began with their energy infrastructure. As part of an energy performance contract with Consolidated Edison, their local energy company, the school district was installing a number of energy efficiency projects on several school campuses. The District worked with CELF to better integrate the sustainability changes to their physical plant with their curriculum to engage students in the transformation process. Now the District is on its way to implementing whole-school-change.

Whole School Transformation

Warwick Valley Central School District

Warwick Valley Central School District was the first school district in New York State to win the prestigious Green Ribbon Award. CELF spent two years working with WVCSD to help integrate sustainability throughout the curriculum across all grade levels as part of a comprehensive Whole-School-Change initiative.

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