Innovation Grants: Education

Two innovation grants were awarded to deepen the District’s resources to educate and engage DC students in sustainability — in classrooms indoors & outside.

Jump to the District Environmental Literacy Plan or the Outdoor Classroom project.


Implementing the Environmental Literacy Plan in DC Public Schools & Launching an Environmental Literacy Summer Institute — COMPLETE


The DC Environmental Literacy Framework

To support the SDC goal to “ensure that all school-age children in the District are educated in sustainability and prepared for a changing green economy,” the Sustainable DC Model School pilot (April 2013-September 2015) helped to develop the District’s Environmental Literacy Plan. The Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) worked with eight model schools — four public and four public charter schools representing all eight Wards — with existing environmental education components in their overall curricula. Together with the schools, a team of Department staff and partner non-profits developed a District Environmental Literacy Framework (ELF), a guide that provides a suggested sequence of place-based applications of science content aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.  Model schools encouraged environmental engagement at every grade level, reaching over 3,700 DC students during the program. In addition, the Department and its partners hosted green career expos for District high school students, held a Climate Change Short Film project that resulted in 27 one-minute videos from students of all ages, hosted discussions around environmental literacy standards with principals and faculty of schools city-wide, examined Next Generation Science Standards through the lens of environmental literacy, and worked with the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) to create a bridge between the Sustainable DC Model Schools pilot and future planning for environmental literacy across all District schools.

Building on this framework, District agencies and partners hosted a three-week Environmental Literacy Summer Institute for DC teachers to create curriculum units based on the Next Generation Science Standards, integrating environmental content into established standards. More than 30 teachers participated and together they developed nine unit plans that support the ELF.

Highlights & Lessons Learned:

– The ELF has become a resource for both environmental literacy efforts and implementation of Next Generation Science Standards. It has been a resource for educators locally and regionally in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, as well as a discussion starting point for school districts and states (ex: Boulder Country, CO and Oregon) interested in tactics to go from environmental literacy plans to local implementation.

– The Model Schools helped project partners identify critical components for successful program implementation and replication including a supportive principal and a respected staff champion at each school, and resources for partner nonprofits to expand services to meet the demand generated by each school, for opportunities both in-classroom and in the field.

– This implementation model worked well for the elementary schools in the pilot program, but needs further refinement and adaptation to reach the same levels of success in middle and high school environments.

– Engaging students in environmental projects or contests — in particular activities directly tied to classroom instruction — were the most meaningful for students. In contrast, an expo-style exhibit hall was not the best format for helping students explore environmental careers.

– Over 75% of the educators who participated in the Summer Institute used the unit plans in the classroom and shared them with other educators in their schools. Teachers reported that these plans helped them better understand new Science Standards and respond to student questions and interests.

– Participants saw great value in networking as a cohort of model school coordinators — both in creating the environmental literacy framework and for sharing best implementation practices. In contrast, networking opportunities that tried to connect model schools with administrators from other nearby schools were not well attended. To engage leaders outside the model schools, partners suggested organizing sessions adjacent to existing administrator meetings.

Next Steps:  Based on this project, OSSE hopes to expand the number of schools implementing school-based environmental literacy programs. Specifically, OSSE has developed three programs that will:

– Establish an Environmental Literacy Leadership Cadre (ELLC) based on the success of identifying a leader within the school to facilitate the development of an environmental literacy program, with the goal of recruiting 24 additional elementary schools to participate. OSSE also hopes to recruit at least 6 individuals who were part of the SDC Model Schools pilot to serve as mentors to this new cadre. To date, OSSE is working with 16 new elementary schools and 4 mentors.

– Increase capacity of nonprofit environmental education organizations to provide programming across the ELLC schools by “adopting a grade” and delivering programs related to air, water, land, resource conservation, and health. (The Environmental Literacy Advancement Grant)

– Allow a nonprofit to designate a fellow to support three schools represented in the cadre, with targeted efforts related to developing a sustainability plan for school gardens, recycling, and composting programs. (The Environmental Literacy Fellowship Grant).

To learn more, read the full report here.

Outdoor Classrooms — IN PROGRESS

Example of an Outdoor Classroom (credit: Tim Bowman)

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) was awarded $330,000 to build an outdoor classroom on the campus of the Hardy Middle School/Fillmore Arts Center in Ward 2. The classroom will serve as a venue for environmental and health education, provide learning opportunities about renewable energy, storm water management, native plating, nutrition and sustainable agriculture. Along with additional funding from OSSE, permanent structures will be constructed of sustainable materials at two District public schools and will serve as a model for developing the DCPS outdoor classroom design guidelines, leading to construction of future outdoor classrooms across the District.

Current status: Preliminary designs for the first class room are complete — stay tuned for updates on final designs & construction.

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