Back to school: Sustainability education for all

Published on: 
14 Sep 2021
Kristen Keim

Feature image: Green School Bali in Bali, Indonesia.

As educators navigate their second school year adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be daunting to advocate for any additional curriculum to be taught in the classroom. However, the benefits of incorporating sustainability education in daily curriculum are more important than ever and justify the extra effort.

Daily news headlines chronicle the implications of our warming planet. Providing opportunities for students to reflect on the world around them and the impacts of their actions can be a powerful tool in encouraging the qualities of empathy, gratitude and responsibility in students.

We asked two K–12 school and educator 2021 Best of School (BOGS) awards recipients why sustainability education is so relevant to the classroom this year. Read on to understand how the past two years have informed their pursuit of sustainability literacy for all students.

Sal Gordon, head of teaching and learning at Green School Bali, Bali, Indonesia:

It's simple. The more we, as humans, separate ourselves from nature, the sicker we become. When we return to living in harmony with our natural environment, our health improves. I hope COVID-19 is a wakeup call for us. To secure the health of future generations, we need to educate our children and ourselves about what living in harmony with nature actually looks like, on a local and global scale.

Two high school boys wearing face masks work on a project

Students at Yosemite High School in Merced, California, work on a project. Photo credit: Jeff Rivero.

Jeff Rivero, social science and health teacher at Yosemite High School, Merced, California:

Climate change is the number one crisis challenging our youth's future, and we must prepare them to conquer their future reality. If the curriculum in our schools doesn't address sustainability now, we will be producing students ill-prepared for the 21st century workforce.

Sustainable education can also create responsible stewardship within the corporate world by creating communities that demand sustainable practices in the production of their goods and services. An environmental literacy curriculum, introduced in elementary classrooms, that develops into a core concept for all [subjects] will produce the thoughtful, creative, passionate and innovative leadership the business community needs in a future workforce to meet sustainable and ethical standards.

Sustainability education can be integrated into all subjects and grade levels using simple, hands-on methods. Learning Lab, USGBC’s K–12 sustainability curriculum platform, contains over 600 lessons that makes sustainability education easy by making the content searchable by subject, theme and grade level. Access over 62 free lessons now or purchase a subscription to the suite of lessons for $40.

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