April 27, 2009 | General

School Innovation In Environmental Literacy

BioCycle April 2009, Vol. 50, No. 4, p. 31
Sustainability center at Eastside Prep, a private school in Washington State, trains students to be environmental leaders.
Chuck Henry and Elena Olsen

Eastside Preparatory School (EPS), located in Kirkland, Washington, is a relatively new school, in only its sixth year of operation. There are currently about 175 students enrolled in grades 5-12; this year EPS will be graduating its first class. As such, they are unburdened by years of structure and can embrace exciting new programs wholeheartedly, and have done so with environmental literacy and sustainability.
In the Fall of 2006, Eastside Prep Impact Center for Sustainability (EPIC) was created.
EPIC is about enabling students to face what will surely be an increasingly urgent need: to integrate connections to both physical environments and diverse human communities in their everyday and professional lives. The purpose of EPIC is to house an “urban sustainability center” for interdisciplinary education and student projects – the intention is to make human impact on the world conscious, deliberate, and constructive.
The goal of EPIC is to provide a community focal point for urban sustainability at Eastside Prep for interdisciplinary education and student projects.
Physically, EPIC consists of four main spaces: a fabrication studio, housing machinery that students can use to investigate/build projects; a media center, with computers and communication equipment for EPS classes; a “living gallery” to display student projects that are examples of tools for sustainability; and a showcase displaying examples of the interaction of science and art.
Since its formation, EPIC has been an instrument for bridging academic disciplines of science, English, art, history and language. This article discusses a few highlights from the EPIC program.
EPIC Curriculum Map incorporates the theme of sustainability into curriculum across all disciplines and grades at EPS. The curriculum map, with all faculty contributing, includes a row for Grade Level Objectives (GLOs) for environmental literacy, then a matrix of rows for activities specifically integrating sustainability with service learning and traditional disciplines.
For example, EPS faculty defined GLOs for the fifth grade in environmental literacy as a general awareness of the relationship between the environment and human life, with practice of the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra. In contrast, the GLOs for eleventh grade are more advanced, defined as a capacity for personal and collective action and civic participation, with the development of critical thinking that leads to problem-solving and appropriate decision-making.
Academic departments integrate environmental literacy into their curricula with an emphasis on “place-based” education. Thus, part of the EPIC mission is to foster a relationship between EPS students and the local, Pacific Northwest environment. For instance, creative writing classes visit local parks and incorporate the outdoors into assignments.
EPIC class for eighth grade is a formal induction into the concepts of sustainability. Students engage in weekly discussions about different aspects of sustainable practices, and are asked to find alternatives to traditional methods of energy production and use, water and wastewater, recycling and restoration. The class uses a variety of hands-on instruction. Last year, the primary project was removal of invasive weeds at a 14-acre Watershed Park site; this year students made a state-of-the-art experimental composter (see sidebar).
Watershed Park Restoration is a multi-agency agreement between EPS and the City of Kirkland, and involves Cascade Land Conservancy, the University of Washington (UW), King County Department of Natural Resources, and local compost producers. During the construction of Interstate-405 in the mid 1950s, a gravel pit was created in the southern portion of Watershed Park. Restoration attempts have been unsuccessful. In 2007, EPS received a written agreement with the City to collaboratively restore and conduct research in the park.
The park is located within a mile of EPS, and is an opportunity for students to study the environment and learn about restoration of disturbed areas. Last year, 10 classes of seventh and eighth graders pulled out the invasive Scotch Broom weed in a 3/4-acre area in preparation for installation of a restoration research project conducted by UW. Research plots have now been established by UW students under the direction of Professor Sally Brown and Chuck Henry (coauthor of this article). One hundred cubic yards of GroCo compost (3:1 wood chips to biosolids) was delivered, incorporated into the research plots, and planted with Douglas fir, ocean spray, red alder and red elderberry, with the help of EPS students.
Impact Projects are group projects taken on by the upper grades at EPS. In the first stage, students choose a particular aspect of sustainability that contributes to a theme, such as green roofs, and work on researching and creating posters. These are used primarily as a learning tool for each group, and to advertise the projects to the EPS community and other schools that might want to visit the demonstrations. In the second stage, students make actual demonstrations of the different projects that showcase the approaches to sustainability, and how they work. Students this year made a solar geodesic dome greenhouse, complete with rainwater harvesting, solar lighting and heating, composting and organic gardening (see sidebar). The Impact Projects culminate with a “Green Fair,” where students from local public schools visit, view the exhibits and participate in hands-on activities.
Recycling Week is held in December, with the intent of formalizing the practice of recycling throughout the school. Many teachers include at least a 15-minute activity related to recycling during this week, such as tracking paper use and reduction in class, identifying what items decompose, or teaching the history and economics of recycling. One of the biggest targets is improving recycling in the cafeteria. A cafeteria waste audit, conducted by students, showed that there was an opportunity to improve. Subsequently, a new system has been designed that will strongly encourage separation for recycling and composting (using the experimental composter).
The objective for EPIC is to have graduating students be well-informed citizens entering the world, with tools for taking action on environmental issues. Through interdisciplinary curriculum, EPS graduates will be prepared to introduce and champion sustainable practices in their communities.
Chuck Henry and Elena Olsen are High School teachers at Eastside Preparatory School in Kirkland, Washington.
Several composting and local food projects are underway at Eastside Preparatory Schools (EPS) as part of its EPIC program:
EPS uses worm bins for composting food scraps, but they have limited capacity. In order to handle all of the school’s food waste, the eighth grade class built a larger composter. Using a design under license from the University of Washington, the compost unit was built primarily out of one 12′ PVC pipe, equipped with auger and mixers, aeration and temperature monitoring. Sections of the pipe were cut out, heated and flattened to make the sides. The composter, with a total capacity of 1.4 cy, is successfully composting food waste from its 210 students and faculty. The resulting compost will eventually be used to cultivate native plants for use in the Watershed Restoration project.
As a ninth grade Impact Project, EPS students constructed a temporary geodesic dome greenhouse out of reused and recycled materials. Working in groups, they also designed and constructed demonstrations of organic gardening, composting, rainwater harvesting, solar power and lighting, and solar heating. The is intended to be a model for a permanent sustainable greenhouse on the EPS campus, in which students will grow plants for the Watershed Park.

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