Math, science, art, technology, even fitness—you name it, and there’s a curriculum for it. But after years of working with disadvantaged youth in the US and abroad, Gina LaMotte, the founder of EcoRise, noticed a severe gap in available content for teachers on sustainability topics. Now, 10 years later, Gina heads the Austin, Texas-based nonprofit which aids teachers in over 500 schools across the nation in educating students of all ages on sustainable design and social entrepreneurship.
Unique in subject and method, EcoRise’s one-of-a kind curriculum aims to engrain sustainable behavior in today’s youth to create lasting and meaningful change tomorrow. The program is project-based, so students are constantly encouraged to take risks and step outside their comfort zones. “Unlike in conventional classrooms, EcoRise students take an active role in their own learning,” says LaMotte. “For us, the classroom is a space where young people exercise innovative thinking, develop leadership skills and create sustainable solutions for the real issues they see in their communities.”
This project-based strategy certainly paid off for one Texas school district when a group of 7th- and 8thgrade students decided to take a closer look at their campus’ water consumption. Through careful analysis, the students discovered their school’s outdoor irrigation system was operating for too long and at inefficient times during the day. They came up with an adapted watering schedule that would save the district thousands of gallons of water—and dollars—and sent their proposal to the district’s facilities director. Floored by the students’ proposal, the director replied saying not only would he implement the students’ suggestions on their campus, but he would reevaluate the water usage at all the campuses in his district. “There’s a level of boldness and idealism that young people have which allows them to imagine new approaches to the issues we face as a society,’’ LaMotte says. “If we don’t unleash these ideas, we’ve missed a huge opportunity.”
EcoRise provides a different experience for teachers as well. Everyone in the organization has a background in education and, therefore, truly understands what it means to work in a school system. Most educators are not sustainability experts, so providing excellent support and teacher-friendly resources is essential to the EcoRise goal. “Comradery is one of our top organizational values,’’ says LaMotte. “We build that bond with our teachers to help them create the change they’ve always envisioned in their classrooms.”
Since its start in 2008, EcoRise has grown from serving one public high school in Austin to serving nearly 100,000 students to date—and they’re not slowing down anytime soon. This year, EcoRise is making their first big splash in NYC, and Structure Tone has joined them as a gold partner. This is also the first summer that teacher ambassadors will be trained in teacher support at host locations, and Structure Tone’s New York headquarters is hosting the first sessions in the city. As trained ambassadors, these teachers will be fully equipped to help teachers in their own communities and extend the organization’s reach even further. For LaMotte and EcoRise, it’s all about placing students at the center of social and sustainable behavior change. “The opportunity to redesign every system we rely upon is a huge, creative and fun challenge. Our mission is to inspire these young people to face it head-on.”
October 23, 2018
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