WHO WE SERVE
We focus on middle school and high school youth, the teachers and school districts that guide their learning, and the community stakeholders, especially local governments, who are relying on the next generation to be engaged voters, informed taxpayers, and conscious consumers.
Our home geography is King County with a near-term goal to build learning partnerships with at least 50% of the County’s 19 school districts and 39 cities.
“SA trains its members to be systems thinkers, to get at the root cause of a problem and address it, and I am glad to have that skill in my pocket going into college.”
- Gargi Panatula
To achieve our three goals, we facilitate an annual rhythm of the following programs.
Sustainable Systems College: In our year-round training program for young leaders in grades 6-12, we do college-level work in systems thinking, policy analysis, performance assessment, project management and public speaking. Ambassadors develop multi-year work plans and lead school and community actions that improve sustainable conditions. Each student Ambassador is expected to engage their school Green Team, Key Club, National Honor Society, ASB student government, PTSA, faculty, administration, Resource Conservation Manager, School Board, City staff, City Council, and appropriate local nonprofits and civic associations such as Rotary, Kiwanis, and the Chamber of Commerce. That’s why we are called Ambassadors.
Intern Program: We offer a range of different intern programs that support emerging student leaders in professional development, project design and collective impact reporting. These opportunities include: Leadership Development, Communications, Alumni Career Track for returning college students, academic year internships on Sustainable City Planning, professional cross-training with selected partner intern programs, and a paid Equity-Diversity-Inclusion Internship for rising youth of color serving community-based organizations.
Educating for Sustainability Problem Design Lab: Teacher leaders, student leaders and community leaders work together to integrate real-world curriculum materials into problem-based curriculum at the middle and high school level. The goal is to meet academic standards in context of community goals. Using primary source material, such as local policy frameworks and sustainability performance measures ensures that learning about real work, doing real work, and measuring impact become foundational to “Educating for Sustainability.”
Living Library: We continuously curate the best real-world resources, categorized by sustainable systems and posted online to support teachers and their students with a go-to, trusted site to launch classroom inquiry and problem-based learning. Students could and should be able to find this same content on their own through web-searches, and teachers can still use the standard textbook or district-adopted, pre-packaged units to support content learning in the abstract, but we want to ensure easy access to the most current, relevant and local resources that will absolutely anchor classroom and community learning in the actual policy frameworks, plans, programs and performance measures used by local government, school districts, NGO’s, and businesses to solve real-world problems.
The 2050 Workout: Produced in collaboration with the University of Washington and hosted on campus, the 2050 Workout convenes 100 student leaders for a 12-hour, systems thinking experiment, forecasting what it would take to achieve 100% sustainability in our own communities by the year 2050 and backcasting to our role today in driving the needed changes to get there.
Project Design Training - Kick Off: In the early fall of each year, student Ambassadors facilitate “peer-to-peer” Kick Off events in each district to coach other students on leadership strategies for Green Team projects, ASB and PTA collaborations, data collection and community reporting.
Public Speaking Workouts: Four times a year, in four different venues around King County, we facilitate dynamic, half-day workshops on public speaking skills. Students practice finding the power in their voice in context of sustainable systems thinking, the intersectionality of equity, environment and economy.
Sustainability TALKS: We produce a series of crisp, academically relevant talks presented by experts in the field and filmed before a live student audience during a regular school day each year. The goal is to develop a video library of expert voices that can be shared with classrooms in many different school districts to catalyze inquiry and inspire project-based learning.
Youth-Voiced Mini-Webinars: Our version of Kahn Academy, student researches and speakers prepare 2-4 minute, recorded slide presentations on a range of sustainable systems to support classroom learning. Scripts and slide images are vetted by our coaches and other experts to ensure technical accuracy. Mini-Webinars are posted on line and shared widely.
Community Sustainability Summit: In the late spring of each year we convene school, city, business, and non-profit stakeholders to annually compare data-driven progress on sustainable projects across generations, jurisdictions and sectors, and develop Collective Impact Projects based on three criteria: (1) easy to accomplish in 12 months, (2) engages the greatest number of diversity of people, (3) generates the biggest measurable impact.
Stakeholders Update: Student Ambassadors deliver our Annual Collective Impact Report to policymakers and community stakeholders including groups such as the school board, city council, community-based organizations, Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Kiwanis, faith groups and others. This annual practice culminates in a Positive Trends Update for regional thought leaders.
Community Impact Mapping: We are collaborating with MapSeed, experts in online community crowd-mapping, to empower students, teachers and community members to visualize, track, and report actions in their neighborhood that improve sustainable community conditions. Our beta release http://mywater.world is designed to promote geographic literacy from the watershed up, meet academic standards, nurture a sense of place, post student, classroom and community impact projects, dynamically visualize annual progress, and motivate ongoing stewardship action. In addition, we develop hard copy maps for schools and school districts, maintain a digital Map Center where teachers can access high resolution pdfs, and facilitate a series of EfS Labs on the value of community impact mapping.
FOUR NEEDS WE ADDRESS
Students study science, technology, engineering, math, history, geography, economics and civics divorced from the applied learning opportunities right outside their classroom. School districts in King County are re-aligning curriculum with the Common Core Literacy Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, both of which require students to demonstrate mastery in the context of solving real-world problems. The STEM disciplines are dutifully taught, and industry cries out for more coders, but to what end? Inside what moral framework for advancing a more sustainable future? We must educate “for” sustainability not merely “about” sustainability, as if you could pigeonhole the systemic success of the future of our planet in one unit at one grade level. Teachers need time and tools for embracing the principles of educating for sustainability, for working with the community as the curriculum, for applying classroom rigor to community relevance. Problem-based learning is organized around the investigation and resolution of messy, real-world problems. Teachers coach student thinking and guide inquiry as co-investigators. This kind of pedagogy is the antithesis of the lecture-textbook-test approach still so pervasive in our schools, a holdover from the factory model born of the first industrial revolution more than a century ago.
Sustainability Ambassadors supports teachers to explore, develop and apply a problem-based learning model in service to a more sustainable future.
Sustainability Ambassadors continuously curates real-world curriculum resources and convenes classroom/community expert roundtables to support problem-based learning in service to a more sustainable future.
Climate Change will significantly alter life in our bioregion with more droughts, more floods, more forest fires. Diminishing snowpack stresses water supply in late summer. Ocean acidification is causing a decline in our shellfish industry, the biggest in the world. Stormwater runoff is the largest source of pollution entering Puget Sound. Toxins are bioaccumulating in the marine food web. Both salmon and the Orca that depend on them are threatened with extinction in our lifetime. The Duwamish Waterway, once the fertile estuary that supported a robust indigenous community, is a Superfund Site. Living with these systemically deteriorating conditions is a big deal. Improving them is essential. It is also a fascinating “living textbook” for learning about history, ecology, geography, economics, civics, policy, environmental justice and cultural relevance. This is the stuff of problem-based learning. Well-informed students with a strong sense of stewardship for the land, water and air resources that support their daily life, can play a key role in educating peers, parents, planners and policymakers.
In March 2013, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and Just Health Action published a Cumulative Health Impacts Analysis for the Duwamish Valley, which found that local residents bear a disproportionate burden of environmental risks with pronounced health inequities relative to other areas of Seattle. According to King County’s Equity and Social Justice 2013 Report, nearly half (47%) of residents under the age of 18 in the county, are people of color and statistics show that “where you live, how much you make, and the color of your skin are major predictors of your life experience and your chances of living well and thriving.” A majority of this vulnerable population lives in the Green/Duwamish Watershed, the south King County school districts we serve. According to the 2010 census, neighborhoods along the lower Duwamish River and upriver through South Seattle, Tukwila, Renton, Kent, and Auburn are among the most linguistically, racially, and culturally diverse zip codes in the state.
Sustainability Ambassadors connects equity, economy and ecology in a triple bottom line approach to sustainable systems problem solving. We coach student leaders, teacher leaders and community leaders using this intersectional framework. Through our Equity Advocacy Intern Program we are investing in young students of color to learn about and help lead this movement.
Sustainability Ambassadors is joining with frontline organizations in shaping, scaling and institutionalizing green jobs youth pathways including our own staff development. We are building learning partnerships with thought leaders, policy makers, program managers, teacher and student leaders, to identify systemic challenges and build systemic solutions.
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT NEED
Within the next five years nearly 30,000 jobs in Washington State will go unfilled due to a lack of qualified STEM candidates and fewer than 5% of STEM postsecondary degrees awarded in Washington are earned by students of color, robbing many young people of an opportunity to participate in fields where our economy is growing (Washington STEM). Economic growth, especially in Washington State, is increasingly driven by the principles of sustainability which means we not only need to prepare students for STEM proficiency but for sustainable systems thinking so that all students have a clear understanding of the relationship between economic vitality, equitable access, and ecosystem integrity. King County and other public agencies are facing a staff shortage, with an estimated retirement of more than 50% of the current workforce this decade. There is a real need to create a government workforce that looks like the community it serves. Local governments committed to these goals are experimenting with internship and summer youth employment models, but right now we have more of a sprinkler than a pipeline. Organizations in the environmental field like ours, need to restructure ourselves not only around these needs, but to hire, support and grow young professionals of color to help lead the restructuring.