CELF's Journey - Children's Environmental Literacy Foundation

CELF’s Journey

Over 20 years of Growth, Experience & Achievement

The Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF) was founded in 2003 with the mission to establish sustainability as an integral part of every child’s K-12 learning experience. CELF engages educators, students, families, and community leaders through professional development, experiential learning programs, and curriculum-aligned content.

Since 2003, CELF has equipped over 15,000 educators with tools that empower students to connect the Big Ideas of Sustainability to their communities through place-based learning and data-driven discovery. Creative projects modeled during our programs encourage students to live a sustainable life and advocate for systemic sustainability solutions in their spheres of influence. To date, CELF programs have reached over 1.5 million students!

Over the past two decades, CELF’s mission and reach have continually expanded. In 2019, CELF launched our Houston program with a new team of staff. CELF has now reached educators not only across the United States, but on four continents!

CELF’s Founding

In 2003, Katie Isaak Ginsberg founded CELF as a nonprofit to address what she saw to be a gap in our education systems. It was motherhood that ultimately spurred her to become a dedicated advocate for sustainability.

One day Ginsberg’s son came home excited from celebrating Earth Day in elementary school. The students were invited to become “environmental detectives” to identify impact areas related to water and energy waste. “It was very empowering for him to see that even young students can make a change, and collectively, make a big difference.” Ginsberg realized then that environmental education should be weaved into the school curriculum throughout the year, starting in the formative years of kindergarten.

“Given the toll of our rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber and fuel have taken on climate change and our ecosystems, if our children are to envision a sustainabile future, we must make human/environmental interperendence and values/eithics a central part of teaching in all core discriptlines.”

Katie Ginsberg
Founder, The Children’s Enivronmental Literacy Foundation

Innovative Programming

CELF prides itself in meeting educators where they are on their journey toward sustainability. The history of our programming reflects an understanding of teachers’ needs, as well as sensitivity and relevance to their students’ lives. CELF continues to innovate programs year-after-year. Recent additions to our portfolio include a membership program and the Green Careers speaker series, as well as a multitude of custom curricular resource projects tailored to the needs of specific partners.


Our First Summer Institutes

Our flagship program – the CELF Summer Institute – was founded within the first year CELF became active in 2004. The goal was to establish a learning environment for educators residing in the greater New York City metro area to implement sustainability education within their existing curriculum. Over the years, our Summer Institutes have grown to bring field experiences, place-based learning, and CELF’s Big Ideas of Sustainability into cities across the country and globe. This work has led to partnerships with the Clinton Global Initiative, New York City Department of Education’s Office of Sustainability, National Geographic Society, and many more.


Establishing the Civic Science Framework

CELF recognizes that children can create a positive impact through scientific discovery, and with the right tools, can bring data-driven solutions to environmental challenges in their communities. In 2016, building on air quality insights from the Mount Sinai Pediatric Environmental Health Unit, CELF developed the Civic Science framework and its initial air quality pathway in partnership with Mount Sinai, and has since expanded into other inquiry pathways including water, waste, and biodiversity, with support from the National Geographic Society.



Whole School Transformation leads to Green Ribbon Award

CELF’s impacts go beyond the classroom, impacting all school campuses, communities and stakeholders. Our theory of Whole School Transformation is the foundation for all our work. Through custom professional development, we work with schools – including teachers, administrators, students, and community stakeholders –  to embed sustainability into their curriculum, school culture, campus, community. Our cumulative efforts have created systematic changes integrating sustainability practices on campus grounds and encouraging students to become more environmentally conscious. Some of our completed school transformations include Warwick Valley Central School District who was awarded with a prestigious U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Award in 2018, and Putnam Valley Central School District.




The Virtual Pivot and the Enduring Hybrid Approach

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed remote and virtual instruction to the forefront. CELF rapidly pivoted to create innovative and dynamic virtual programs and to help teachers adjust to digital classrooms and discover enabling technologies. Our ability to offer virtual, hybrid and in-person programming has extended the reach of the CELF experience to new communities of students, teachers, and administrators across the country and the world.

CELF continues to innovate programs year-after-year. Recent additions to our portfolio include a membership program, Green Careers speaker series, and the Family Nature Challenge, as well as a multitude of custom curricular resource projects tailored to needs of specific partners.

Empowering Youth Voices

In 2023, CELF joined forces with Young Voices for the Planet, the producer of over a dozen short films demonstrating the power of student voice to have a positive environmental impact. CELF is energized by the prospects of a bright shared future to expand opportunities for student expression.

This partnership brings together CELF’s forums for students, building on its Student Ambassador Program and including our Civic Science Student Symposium, with YVFP’s rich creative legacy in order to expand our combined impact across civic action, media visibility, and well beyond.

Founded in 2011 by Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch, YVFP has hosted workshops and film screenings worldwide in schools and at festivals, and has reached an estimated 11 million viewers nationwide through distribution by American Public Television.

Pathway to Future Growth

As we look ahead to our next chapter, CELF is focused on impact and building on long-term strategic partnerships with school districts, corporate sponsors, institutes of higher education, and complementary nonprofit organizations. Strong ties to some of the largest U.S. districts–the New York City Department of Education, Houston Independent School District, Spring Independent School District, and Los Angeles Unified School District–provide a solid ground to build upon. CELF connects diverse learning communities–public and independent schools; domestic and international locations; urban, suburban and rural places–through their shared commitment to integrate sustainability into every child’s education for the next generation of leaders to make a global impact!

Join us for our upcoming Summer Institutes in New York and Texas.Register Today.
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