Sustainability in Education: What it Means & Why it Matters

“Sustainability.” It’s an important buzz-word, both locally and globally. You may have heard it at town hall meetings regarding the installation of new solar panels on buildings or along highways. It’s at the center of regional discussions on off-shore wind turbines in the Nantucket Sound and near Block Island. Coupled with other words like “preservation” and “environmental justice,” you’ll find it at the source of current and contentious national issues such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. It marks global progress, like the 2016 Paris Agreement in which 195 countries agreed to put their efforts towards reducing emissions and slowing global warming.

Sustainability in education can mean many different things. For one, it can delineate a focus and a passion for the environment within young students, and result in careers in countless sectors. Now more than ever, environmental studies are vital for our high schoolers to understand, respect, and take part in, for the sake of human and biological prosperity. Thanks to specialized magnet high schools like Connecticut River Academy, sustainability is progressively becoming a focal point of learning tenets.

According to the Sustainable Schools Project, in a sustainability-based education, “Teachers learn about the community’s vision and strategies for a sustainable future, then bring this larger dialogue into their curriculum with a focus that’s appropriate for their students.”

A high school education that focuses on sustainability, like that of Connecticut River Academy, begins with a community focus as well as an understanding of oneself within that community. Hands-on experience, including opportunities for local environmental field work, expands teenagers’ minds and interests. Through learning about sustainability, teens link inquiry, knowledge, and action. They build the blocks to become innovators, researchers, policy makers, inventors, and technicians—eventually leading not only their local communities but also the world to a healthier future.

There are many ways that Connecticut River Academy expands on this theme. Through its curriculum and exceptional extracurricular opportunities, students reap the benefits of sustainability in education. Here are just a few examples from this year’s program of studies at Connecticut River Academy:

  • All Connecticut River Academy scholars take Environmental Science in their freshman year, Biology in their sophomore year, Chemistry in junior, and either Accelerated Physics or another science elective in their final year. Passionate students can elect to proceed down specific areas of an environmental focus, through courses such as Rivers and Watersheds, Ecosystems, Energy and Energy Transformations, Agriculture, and Environmental Health. By taking four or more additional environmental classes plus a related capstone project, students are acknowledged with a cord of distinction as a CTRA Environmental Scholar on graduation day.
  • As an early college high school, Connecticut River Academy allows high achieving students to take more challenging courses on sustainability through dual enrollment at Goodwin College. Classes such as Environmental Justice explore the impact of exposure to environmental hazards on health, including air and water pollution, toxic chemicals, industrial waste, lead, and mercury. Students learn about climate change and examine environmental justice issues in relation to civil rights, community, and the role of the individual. Environmental Ethics is another offered course in sustainability, which investigates diverse values and environmental responsibility, in both Western and non-Western philosophies.

Even in the summer season, students at Connecticut River Academy have the opportunity to invest themselves in sustainability-based learning. Through the CT River Odyssey Program and the Summer of Solutions Program, for example, students can get involved in activities such as canoeing up the Connecticut River and its watersheds, researching on the Long Island Sound on the Goodwin Navigator, and planting seasonal vegetables and a pumpkin patch.

Extracurricular opportunity abounds for inspired teens at Connecticut River Academy. This past June, for instance, two of our scholars participated in the UConn Bioblitz event, a search for biodiversity in the Connecticut area. Among 200 scientists, these Academy high-schoolers participated in identifying thousands of species in 24 hours. They also presented their expertise locally at the Two Rivers Middle School. This is a great example of teens becoming interested in their local biodiversity and sharing their knowledge with their local community.

Environmental sustainability is interconnected to community and an understanding of one’s identity. From freshman year, Connecticut River Academy students are encouraged to develop their “self” through identity and team-building exercises. In Grades 10 and 11, courses on Community Contribution are taught. In senior year, students are asked to think about their own legacy—a valuable exercise as they take their next steps beyond graduation—and assess how they plan to invest themselves in creating a better world.

So, why does sustainability in education matter? Because it helps teens relate to and improve upon their communities. Because it helps them pursue exciting content and consider valuable environmental careers. Because sustainability increases their awareness and builds a pathway towards success. At Connecticut River Academy, we believe our graduates are at the forefront of their peers, holding promises to become just leaders of tomorrow.

To learn more about how sustainability is incorporated into our high school curriculum, or to see why Connecticut River Academy is rated the best magnet high school in the area, please contact us or schedule a parent information session today by clicking here.