The Eco-Schools USA program sparks school-based actions toward sustainability that ripple out to the larger school community and help to develop generations of sustainably minded, environmentally conscious people. The National Wildlife Federation has been the U.S. host of this international program since 2008 and more than 5,000 schools in the United States are registered, over 1,300 of which are in the South-Central Region. The Eco-Schools USA program is free, and any school may register to make progress on their own or by applying for National Wildlife Federation grant opportunities, where available.
Schools participating in the program engage students in authentic learning experiences by directly integrating real-world challenges into the existing curriculum, meeting required educational standards through content like our Monarch Mission Curriculum. The flexibility of the program also allows teams to build community, gain financial and academic benefits, and have fun while doing it!
As the school year gets started, meet with your administration to let them know you’d like to organize an Eco-Action team to work on sustainability projects. This team can be a pre-existing team or can be a new team that starts as a small group of teachers and students, and later expands to include community members and parents.
I see how the eighth graders are developing a passion to help the environment and how they can, as individuals, as young people, really make a positive impact here, now and in the future. - -Jason Siptak, science teacher, Bonham Academy, San Antonio, TX
Conduct a Pathway Audit – Schedule your first Eco-Action Team meeting to choose just one of the 12 Eco-Schools USA sustainability pathways to work on first. Not sure where to start? Use our environmental review checklist. You will conduct a pre-audit and a post-audit of your sustainability pathway of choice to measure your progress over time. The most popular starting pathways in the South Central Region are Schoolyard Habitats, Biodiversity, Consumption & Waste, and Energy.
Our students created a more robust recycling program that allowed ambassadors to teach and guide their fellow students to actively participate in the collection process. We are now getting ready to launch a cafeteria compost program as a next step in the Consumption and Waste Pathway. I love how the pathways start with an audit and keep students evaluating throughout the whole process! They have become empowered to see areas for improvement and make changes to their surroundings. - Kellie Maxwell, Sustainability Coordinator, Wesley International Academy, Atlanta, GA
Schedule a second Eco-Action Team meeting to discuss the results of your audit and decide on actions the team would like to take. Include one or more goals with deadlines (such as when to conduct your post-audit), timeline (view recommended timeline) and who is responsible for helping complete the goals. Also make a list of resources or funds needed, if any.
The skills that our students used in this process are the same skills they will use to explore real-world problems and challenges in the work place. - Thea Goldin-Smith, Leadership Class teacher, Eastwood Academy, Houston, TX
As you begin to carry out your goals, check in regularly as a team to make sure you are making progress on your plan or to revise goals as needed. Make sure someone takes notes to document your progress!
The Eco-Schools USA program provides a user-friendly format for students to set goals and work towards them. Many students have a few ideas on how to improve the sustainability of their schools, but the Eco-Schools program pushes them to the next steps. Last year, we exceeded our school goal for recycling paper! - Carolyn Klein, science teacher, Westside High School, Houston, TX
At any time, set aside some time to look at your curriculum plan and NWF resources to see where you can infuse pathway work into your existing learning topics. For example, if you are working on the Energy Pathway what are the expectations around the topic of energy for each grade level? Consider meeting with grade-level teams to discuss the possibilities of getting involved.
It's great to witness the moments when students understand and make connections, and ask their own questions when doing field-based activities. - Carlos Garcia, Eco-Club Sponsor and P.E. teacher, Kay Franklin Elementary, San Antonio, TX
At any time, reach out to community to get involved with conducting the audit, serving as guest speakers, or helping with workdays or donations. Publish or otherwise share information about the team’s activities and audit results. Encourage students to create flyers, contribute to morning announcements or work with you or their parents/guardians to be part of community events outside of the school day.
We liked that the program was able to bring people together for an important cause. It gave us a common goal and encouraged us to work together to achieve that goal. The program has created an awareness of importance of taking care of the environment in students and as a result has encouraged them to take action on their own. There are more students going home and starting conversations with their families. – Milby High School Peace Club student team, Houston, TX
At any time (the sooner the better!) develop a motto or mission statement for sustainability that will appear in all communications related to your sustainability projects. This can be through a team discussion or consider a school-wide competition to create the Eco-Code with art and phrases. However this is created, ensure students play a central role.
Children learn by doing—this has been an invaluable experience for them. - Oliver Barron, Eco-Club Sponsor and 5th grade teacher, Patton Elementary, Austin, TX
As students implement their plans, progress is measured, helping them gain recognition with schoolwide awards. To date, in the South Central Region there are about 160 Bronze Awardees, 60 Silver Awardees, and 20 Green Flag Awardees. The Green Flag is the highest award in Eco-Schools USA. Receiving this award is often accompanied by an award ceremony with guest speakers and an appearance by National Wildlife Federation’s Ranger Rick!
To get involved, a team will choose a sustainability pathway of focus and register their school for an Eco-Schools USA Dashboard. Then, they use the Eco-Schools USA Seven Step Framework as a self-paced path for making progress on their chosen sustainability pathway, with student leadership at every step. By following the steps, students think creatively and critically about environmental and sustainability challenges at their school and develop place-based solutions. Questions about Eco-Schools? Contact one of the program contacts below:
More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.