by Upper School teacher Tina Morris
It is lunchtime on Day One, and the hallways of Farnsworth are teeming with creativity, spirit, and the fire of change. Groups huddle in hallways, classrooms, and even stairwells, collaborating on projects, researching ecological issues, and helping our community become more sustainable. This is Big Green, the Upper School environmental student committee that boasts more than fifty members this year.
Eighth graders are focusing on two projects: Pike’s National Park Trail Challenge and the Print Relief program. The trail challenge is illustrated on the cafeteria bulletin board, where mileage to 13 U.S. parks accompanies a map of our progress. For every one mile (or one loop) of the trail, we grow closer to our final destination, Yosemite National Park, California (2541 miles). At this point, we have reached 625 miles, or 6 parks, so far. The students are creating a poster for each park, as well as slide shows about the challenge and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
Another group of 8’s is busy with the Print Relief project, our new printer program that allows us to monitor and record paper use and to replant trees to offset our consumption. By researching the countries of Madagascar, Dominican Republic, India, Ethiopia, and Colombia they are determining where Pike wants to plant trees and how to encourage a reduction in our paper use.
Seventh graders are involved in several action projects including helping Pre-K paint birdhouses for the nature trail, creating presentations on water conservation and the decline of bees, and making videos on pollution and other issues.
Three intrepid eighth graders are mentoring the sixth graders who are hard at work making art sculptures from recycled materials and designing a bulletin board on reforestation as a supplement to the Print Relief project.
In the Lower and Middle School classrooms as well, children are active helping their environment. For Pike students, awareness of their natural world begins at a young age when they head outside to explore and learn about its magic. Whether it be the Pre-K and Kindergarten forays into the woods next to the playground, the weekly First Grade walks and talks in the outdoor classroom on the nature trail with former Pike teacher Joan Regan, or the Second Graders’ study of habitats and their importance to wildlife, Lower Schoolers are tuned into the world outside their door.
In Middle School, this continues with each grade as students raise and release brook trout into local rivers (Third Grade), study bird ecology and plant a vegetable garden (Fourth Grade), or record data on trees for the Harvard Forest ecology project (Fifth Grade).
Environmental Literacy is a term that we bandy about these days even though its definition can seem nebulous. The greatest worry amongst environmental educators is that our “plugged in” youth are becoming more removed than ever from the natural world and its ensuing problems, at the same time that many school environmental programs are being cut or reduced in the name of testing mandates, and finances.
In the past two years, schools in the region that have aspirations for a sustainability program have asked Pike for advice. Although we don’t pretend to have all the answers, we have crossed many bridges to build a greener school. If we can help others avoid pitfalls along the way, we should try to share our experience. As we talk to other schools about waste management programs, energy projects, and other elements of our program, it is always the Environmental Literacy aspect of our work that impresses them the most. Educating students about the other areas of sustainability is our biggest, and most important, challenge.
If we consider the five main components of Environmental Literacy — Awareness, Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, and Action — Pike’s program is on its way to tackling all these. While the first four are vital parts of the Pike curriculum, the last leg of the journey – ACTION – is as important to our mission of preparing students to be responsible citizens as any of the other four components. Our graduates need to be able to care for the earth in the wake of our modern lifestyle.
The intention is to have every grade adopt an environmental action project. Already in full swing, Pre-K, Kindergarten and 4th grade grow a garden, 6th graders serve as compost monitors, 7th grade recycles the entire school, and the 9th grade raises endangered Blandings turtles. Other grades are in the process of developing projects that can build on the year before and contribute to the community.
Pike has instituted a vital and comprehensive Environmental Literacy plan to help children understand and appreciate their environment while also encouraging them to become stewards of their earth. It is an exciting place to be!
To view all the curriculum units and action projects that Pike is working on in Environmental Literacy, click here.
The Pike School is an independent, coed, day school for Pre-K through ninth grade in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit pikeschool.org to learn more about Pike – and visit our blog for more thought leadership. To learn more about admission to The Pike School, visit our Admission page.