Creating Global Citizens Through Sustainability Education

Jun. 11, 2013

ST. LOUIS, June 10, 2013 – Teaching children about climate change and sustainability is commonly part of a biology curriculum or perhaps a thematic unit around Earth Day, but Lori Diefenbacher, coordinator of education for sustainability and adjunct faculty member in Webster University's School of Education, says educators can do more.

“Sustainability in education is more than recycle bins in the classroom, it's about global citizenship,” said Diefenbacher. “As educators we should be helping students analyze what they are doing, where they are going and how these decisions impact their neighbors locally and globally.”

Having educators realize the benefits of interdisciplinary sustainability education is one of the main goals of the third annual Sustainability Institute for P12 Educators held at Webster University's East Academic Building June 25-27, 2013. The three-day hands-on workshop will focus on the issues of climate change and how educators can bring awareness to our youth to help them learn to be responsible and to take action for a safer and more sustainable future.

“We need to be teaching for a sustainable future,” said Diefenbacher. “Sustainability curriculum can be a thread in the behavioral sciences, social sciences, art and languages.”

The event is hosted by Webster University, Missouri Botanical Garden, U.S. Green Building Council – Missouri Gateway Chapter and the Saint Louis Zoo. Throughout the three days, speakers and hands-on workshops will focus on the issue of climate change and how educators can bring awareness to students to help them learn to be responsible and take action for a safer and more sustainable environment.

Bob Shaw is the science department chair at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School and is an adjunct faculty member at Webster University; he will be presenting a session on sustainable food in schools at the Sustainability Institute. Shaw says MICDS has worked to incorporate sustainability lessons throughout their school

“We have woven sustainability into several areas of the curriculum,” said Shaw. “We have sustainability lessons in the Lower School and as students advance throughout their studies they learn more about climate change, invasive species and water quality. Students in eighth grade complete a Sustainability Project as a part of their capstone to Middle School. Additionally we have a goal to be a Zero Waste School by diverting nine of every ten pounds of waste from landfills.”

Shaw said that schools can make small environmentally friendly changes and then increase what they do each year.

“The biggest misconception about sustainable food in schools is that people think you have to change everything at once,” Shaw said. “Starting Meatless Monday will raise food awareness and reduce food costs for the year. Another change could be using local seasonal vegetables or seeking sustainable vendors over time. It's a matter of looking at what you already do and figuring out the small changes that can make a difference.”

Sessions will focus on pre-school aged children up through grade 12. Diefenbacher said that while the lessons will change as the children move throughout school, even very young children can learn about sustainability.

“We have to start early. Preschoolers can learn to understand the concepts that become the building blocks of the sustainability mindset,” she said “Each day we have an opportunity to make smart, sustainable choices. It's time to move past the basic lessons and advance to the next phase and help students understand the impact of their decisions on the world around them.”

Other sessions throughout the three-day institute include:

  • How to talk to students about climate change
  • Developing a sustainability curriculum
  • Conducting a schoolyard “bioblitz”
  • The benefits of rainscaping

“Throughout the sessions we will have small group discussions and the event will wrap-up with hands-on activities where participants can learn how to conduct sustainable building audits, use solar cookers or learn about water contamination,” said Diefenbacher. “Additionally we have a number of local businesses participating in a sustainable resource fair.”

The Sustainability Institute costs $150 and includes sustainable breakfasts and lunches. Graduate credit is also available. 
For more information or to register online, visit the event website.