K–12 curriculum: Shifting mindsets with sustainability lessons

Published on: 
5 Jun 2019
Kristen Keim

Every day, we see how important it is to teach students about sustainability and how much of an impact those students can have on shifting mindsets within their own communities.

Dream in Green (DIG) is a South Florida-based nonprofit that focuses on educating preK–12 students for sustainability and demonstrating the solutions for reducing environmental impacts. The organization’s founders shared a passion for environmental sustainability and recognized that by harnessing the imagination, creativity and enthusiasm of young minds, schools could serve as fertile ground to shape a community committed to environmental stewardship.

The Green Schools Challenge (GSC), a program of Dream in Green, is specially designed curriculum for students to increase their appreciation for, connection to, and knowledge of the environment, with the intent to inspire each student to become an environmental steward.

Dream in Green joined the Learning Lab Partner network this year, and its Green Schools Challenge lessons are now available as part of the annual subscription. The curriculum currently available contains seven lessons for grades preK–12 covering waste and green living. Additional lessons will be added to the Learning Lab platform throughout the year.

Barbara Martinez-Guerrero, director of Dream in Green, shares her thoughts on why the curriculum is so successful in positively impacting student behaviors:

Why is it powerful to teach students about the impacts they have on their school building?

When students become aware and knowledgeable of their impacts, they can make informed decisions about their actions at school and become more invested in creating solutions. The GSC is a long-term, whole-system approach to water, energy and resource efficiency in schools. The program engages students in hands-on educational activities that save water and energy, as well as expose the school community to the links between water, energy, waste, environment, climate change and community sustainability.

The impact leads to behavioral changes that promote environmental stewardship. Since its inception, DIG has directly served approximately 74,000 students, with an additional 30,000 K–12 teachers, school staff members and community residents exposed to the program’s environmental content. The GSC has saved Miami-Dade County Public Schools approximately $2.8 million in energy costs, while conserving 29.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity through simple, no-cos, behavior changes like turning off lights and computers and unplugging electronics. These student-led initiatives reduced and offset approximately 44.6 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions—the equivalent of taking 2,961 homes off the electricity grid for an entire year.

How does the Green Schools Challenge curriculum connect students to their learning?

By providing preK–12 schools with a focused environmental literacy curriculum and challenging them to participate in monthly hands-on activities around core sustainability concepts, students are empowered to take small steps within their schools and at home that collectively can have a big impact on our environment, society and economy. The GSC’s approach is different from many typical environmental education organizations in that it goes beyond dispensing knowledge, and asks students to immediately engage in simple behavior changes that builds pride, confidence and habit in finding solutions to the challenges we face.

If you could suggest only one lesson to teachers, which would it be?

I do not know if I have a favorite, but we have gotten great feedback from local middle school teachers on the Green Living: Identifying Green Businesses in Your Community lesson. I am looking forward to getting more of our lessons up on Learning Lab, because we test these lessons with classroom teachers and get feedback on the effectiveness of the activities.

Explore the Green Schools Challenge on Learning Lab