Sustainability Curriculum

Our program exposes students to central theories of sustainable development, with a focus on the application of knowledge to real-world problems.

Program Goals

Sustainable Summer Program Goals

  • eco-literacy” and critical thinking about sustainability
  • understanding of the interconnectedness of human and natural systems; the linkages found in nature and those connecting economic systems, environment, and society
  • ​the ​analytic, communication, ​interpersonal, ​and positive risk-taking skills necessary to create change in their local and global communities
  • passion towards and commitment to social and environmental justice and of their own role and responsibility as a global citizen/li>
  • an appreciation of the necessity and difficulty of making ethical choices
  • insights into their own academic, professional, and personal opportunities and goals

Frameworks for Learning

Although every Sustainable Summer program has a different geographic and thematic focus, we design programs along three core frameworks for learning.

Critical Inquiry

An essential question guides our experience studying sustainability on every program. Participants — through discussions, workshops, site visits, fieldwork, and project-based learning — will investigate important concepts in the field of sustainable development.

21st Century Leadership

A global citizen is someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building global values and practices. Frugality, integrity, humility, and cultural awareness guide our mission in creating the next generation of environmental leaders and responsible global citizens. We infuse our program with activities that develop global citizenship in our students.

Developing Lifelong Skills

Challenge-based learning is a collaborative learning experience in which educators and students work together to learn about compelling issues, propose solutions to real problems, and take action. This unique approach asks students to reflect on their learning and the impact of their actions and publish their solutions to a worldwide audience.

Our Values

Learning Should Be FUN!

This isn’t to say that learning shouldn’t be challenging or that you occasionally need to slog through some not so fun stuff to get to the really good stuff, but we aim to design programs that engage students and balance theory and application in a way that puts a smile on your face every single day.

Nature is a great teacher

Shakespeare said that nature is the best teacher and (s)he might be right. Certainly, for an organization concerned with matters of the environment, this is true. But more importantly, we know that spending time in nature can teach an awful lot about oneself. Our programs reflect this value every day.

We respect and value diversity

A healthy ecosystem is incredibly biologically diverse. We similarly believe that a healthy community respects and values human diversity.

A great staff and great students are by far the most important ingredient

We put a great deal of resources into our curriculum and programming, but a brilliant syllabus has a lot less value in the hands of an incapable teacher or uninspired students.

We are teachers and facilitators

Teachers impart knowledge to students. Facilitators build on the knowledge base of a group of students to enable discovery. We teach and we facilitate, but we think the latter is the really exciting part of education.

We know and believe that our students are capable of remarkable things

We design programs that respect the intelligence and potential of our students, which, in our experience, already know more than the vast majority of adults about climate and environmental issues.

We aren’t bound by standards

Unlike traditional schools, we do not have the same concern towards grades and educational standards. We design programs for students that are interested in the interdisciplinary application of knowledge. We prefer problems with no one “right” answer.

We embrace uncertainty and risk

We design curriculum to be experiential and dynamic. There is an important place for appropriately managed risk in education.

We are lifelong learners

No one is an expert in everything. In fact, few people are experts in more than a handful of things. It is the desire to learn and the experience of learning that forms the basis for a meaningful life.

Learning Strategies

Project-Based Learning

All programs feature a group project that allows for an in-depth investigation of an authentic and complex environmental problem. The project is aligned with the thematic and conceptual focus of the program. Student teams learn about design thinking methodology and apply this methodology to their particular problem.

Peer-to-Peer Learning

Our students are intellectually curious, passionate about sustainability, and have diverse viewpoints and life experiences. Teaching others results is one of the most effective methods for retention (90%).

Pre-Program Assignments

An introductory pre-program mini-course is designed to build a common foundation in key concepts. Most students will require 3 – 4 hours of total time to complete the pre-program coursework, which varies by program but generally consists of short readings, videos, and reflections.

Field Activities, Reflections, and Discussions

Activities frequently take place in the field – site visits to a hydro facility or farmer’s collective, for instance. These experiences lend themselves to reflection and discussion. Students are encouraged to think critically about the issues at hand, and to share their opinions regularly in our evening group discussions. We will frequently reference our essential question for the program, which provides some structure to our experience discussing sustainability and help connect seemingly disparate concepts.

Journal Entries

Students are expected to keep a journal to help stimulate purposeful engagement with the experience and critical reflection. Students are occasionally assigned assignments or prompts focus reflection on an important concept. Journal entries are not collected and reviewed, but some of the ideas and reactions that come out of a journal entry will ideally be shared with the group. We also keep a “group journal,” which any student is welcome to contribute to at any time. Some group journal entries may be posted on the Sustainable Summer program blog. Journal entries can be creative and include drawings, question lists (good for generating discussion), poems or songs, and other mixed-media elements. The aim is for these entries to be concise while also allowing space for students to present their comprehension of a theme or an issue.

Sustainability Action Plan

Ultimately, we want students to be able to transfer what they learn on the program back to their home community and be prepared to engage in an effort that results in positive change. Students will develop a personal Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), which will document the steps they would like to take when they return home to live more sustainably. The SAP should detail changes they will make on a daily, monthly and yearly basis, and will also outline steps to encourage members of their family, peer groups and community to adopt similar measures.

Case Study

It’s easy to be green when you have the time, resources, and autonomy to do so. But the real-world is far more complicated. We’ll work through a multi-stakeholder case study related to a local issue so students can better understand the process of negotiation and compromise that is needed to implement sustainable solutions. Multi-stakeholder negotiations bring representatives of different interest groups (local business, industry, conservation, government, citizens, etc.) together to attempt to find common ground and equitable outcomes to problems.