Environmental education is the thread that connects Crellin Elementary’s instructional practices, curriculum, and our community. For the past 14 years, we have focused efforts on connecting the curriculum to meaningful, place-based projects and practices. As we embarked on this journey we knew we needed to change the culture of the school and the community's expectations. Through collaborative efforts we were able to obtain 5.5 acres behind the school and complete a reclamation project that remediated an acid mine drainage problem and created an outdoor classroom. Our efforts continued to include recycling, composting, watershed studies, and sustainability practices. Most recently we added an agriculture program which includes livestock and a greenhouse. We have engaged the community in all of these efforts through Learning Celebrations, family activities, and by using our learning to provide community service. We adopted five guiding principles and continue to use them to determine and steer our focus and maintain the culture that has been created.
1. Children should learn to care for the environment and know what it means to nurture another being. We strive to teach and model for students the importance of taking care of our space. Whether it be restoring habitat, cleaning up trash, or caring for the animals on our school farm, we seek opportunities for students to engage in these types of activities.
2. Children will understand the interconnectedness of all organisms.Lessons that help students see how organisms are connected lead to the understanding of how their actions affect others. Teaching about the watershed, food webs, and responsible agricultural practices assist in our efforts.
3. Children will gain a sense of place and responsibility toward their community.Using community needs and problems as opportunities for learning and to apply knowledge has helped us use a place-based model.
4. By doing actual labor, children will recognize the importance of their contributions in making our community work. By engaging students in community clean up activities and in designing, planting, and maintaining gardens to help create a healthier community we are giving students the chance to know what it is like to be part of something bigger. They view problems as opportunities and are part of the solutions.
5. Spending time in nature will allow children to develop a strong connection to the natural world, and a future interest in protecting it.Daily, students at Crellin School assist in completing barn and greenhouse chores, recycling efforts, and in maintaining our Environmental Laboratory. By allowing students to explore and investigate the various ecosystems surrounding the school and in the community they develop memories, a sense of wonder, and a love for the natural world.
As a result of our efforts we have become a driving force in the community. We have been invited to share our story though presentations at research institutions and conferences, through a documentary on PBS, and on the Edutopia website. We believe our success is a direct result of the collaboration between people who want to make learning relevant and who care about our children and their future.