Environmental Education at the Cloud Forest School
Although environmental education is increasingly common in the United States and Canada, similar programs are almost unheard of in much of the rest of the western hemisphere. Moreover, environmental education programs generally supplement traditional classroom subjects, rather than constituting a school’s core curriculum. At the CFS, however, effective environmental education has always guided philosophical as well as academic decisions. In 2003, the school piloted an integrated curriculum based on a series of six-week units, each of which focused on a different environmental theme. Today the CFS student body has more than quadrupled, and we face the exciting challenge of refining an environmental education curriculum at all levels that is consistent with the school’s philosophy, history and mission.
To this end, we have developed a three-part environmental curriculum for kindergarten through twelfth graders. The three basic elements of this curriculum include: 1) land stewardship; 2) local environmental education; and 3) a global course of socio-environmental studies. This three-tiered approach recognizes and integrates the many different forms of environmental education, from the importance of fostering a passion for the land, to mastery of basic environmental science, to an understanding of the interconnectedness between environment and society on a trans-historical, trans-global scale.
Land Stewardship. Students in all grades (pre-school through eleventh) spend time taking care of the school’s own environment. The CFS currently maintains an organic garden, a recycling center, compost bins, a native tree nursery, a reforestation project, and a system of trails which honeycomb our forested campus. In the near future, we plan to add more trails, a small animal husbandry program, and a botanical garden. Students are involved in daily maintenance and hands-on education in each of these areas. By taking responsibility for the school’s own environment and learning the basic skills of land stewardship, students come to view the CFS as a microcosm of the global environment, appreciating and understanding its natural beauty while recognizing the importance of sustainable living and conscientious decision-making regarding land use and lifestyle.
Local Environmental Education.
The CFS is located in one of the ecosystems most admired and studied by environmentalists everywhere: the tropical cloud forest. Students at the CFS are fortunate to have as a classroom one of the last extant remnants of Pacific pre-montane cloud forest in the world. The school’s property is part of a “green necklace” which is protected from development by conservation easements, and which features a wealth of increasingly rare native flora and fauna. The Local Environmental Education component of the CFS’s curriculum educates students about this unique and fragile ecosystem while simultaneously engendering a love for the land. This component is administered by the school’s environmental education coordinator, under whose guidance all classes spend time each week actively engaged in lessons in and/or pertaining to the tropical cloud forest. The ultimate goal of the local environmental immersion program is to familiarize students with the biodiversity of the region so that they may appreciate it, educate others about it, and protect it.
Global Socio-Environmental Studies.
The Global Socio-Environmental Studies curriculum of the CFS is followed by all students in fourth through eleventh grades. These students focus on one region or continent, integrating the study of geography, geology, ecology, climate, anthropology, literature, history, and contemporary culture into this land-based approach. The Global Socio-Environmental curriculum culminates in eleventh grade with a year-long study of human ecology. This course ties together students’ understanding of diverse ecosystems and cultures into a study of the “state of the environment” in the present-day global community. This program provides an age-appropriate, in-depth look at the natural history, history and culture of different regions of the world while maintaining at its core an investigation into the diverse and changing global environment.