WPEA Winner Feature: Environmental Charter School

In the weeks leading up to the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council will feature each of this year’s four award winners. With the Environmental Charter School, McKean County Conservation District, Paint Creek Regional Watershed Association, and Sustainable Pittsburgh set to be honored at the May 27 ceremony at Pittsburgh’s Westin Hotel and Convention Center, check in each Friday for an in-depth look at each winner.

Environmental Charter School at Frick Park

The Environmental Charter School at Frick Park (ECS) educates students to high academic learning standards using a themed curriculum that fosters knowledge, love of and respect for the environment, and the will to preserve it for future generations.

ECS photo 2
An ECS student presents his work.

ECS challenges the notion that environmental education is taught through a one-dimensional story or experience and addresses the need for an ecologically-literate society by engaging with diverse partners that exist within the city of Pittsburgh and the region to build a program that connects students to their place and that empowers them to change the world.

ECS has worked continuously to create innovative programming, recruit effective teachers, invest in green and healthy practices in both facilities and culture, and connect with national leaders in sustainability to build institutional knowledge base and growth.

Rather than teaching subjects like science in conventional classrooms, ECS strives to bridge understanding of environmental issues through an approach to a topic that often includes an investigation of social, economic, and humanities elements. ECS designs education that connects students to the natural and built worlds around them and has instilled a culture of sustainability through a series of projects with lasting impact on the health, wellness, and environmental impact of the school.

ECS invested in an expansive school garden program at both campuses, in partnership with Grow Pittsburgh, Penn State Master Gardeners, and Frick Environmental Center.

It also partnered with its cleaning service, school nurses, building manager, and office managers to develop a series of purchasing requirements and protocols for cleaning and maintenance throughout both schools. Students designed projects that support cleaner air quality in the City of Pittsburgh. After learning about the impact of idling of school buses and cars, ECS students applied for a grant through the Breathe Project to fund the placement of “No Idling” signs at the front of both schools.

ECS designed a systems handbook to include green purchasing policies, recycling and composting guidelines, green cleaning practices, and space design protocols for healthy and high-performing spaces.

ECS educators gather data around student growth in academic areas, thinking and synthesizing, and socio-emotional development.

And the school has collaborated with over 30 organizations to support sustainable food education, including farmers, chefs, photographers, and other perspectives around the food economy in Pittsburgh.

Environmental Charter School has shown that education can be about providing opportunities for students to connect and engage with topics in ways that resonate and profoundly impact them. The school’s success demonstrates that an environmentally-focused charter school can fill a knowledge gap for our region’s children while ensuring they receive the best possible education.