Greening high school curriculum through environmental education and community service

As the number of environmental problems increases, there is a need for future generations to be environmental literate and to learn how to live sustainably on the planet. However, while environmental education (EE) has support from parents, teachers and students, it has yet to become a part of the school curricular. Teachers name various reasons for not doing environmental education in their classrooms, including lack of time, limited resources, school emphasis on accountability, tight school schedules and overloaded curricular. Supporters of EE call for more evidence on the efficacy of environmental education. Furthermore, more models are needed to illustrate how environmental education can be made a part of the school curricular. This study begins to address these needs.

We present a model that illustrates how environmental education can be incorporated into school curriculum at the high school level. We describe a year-long high school program undertaken in one of the public schools in Washington State, USA, that integrates environmental education across subject areas and involves students in community service projects. Using qualitative and quantitative methods we explore experiences of students who participated in the program and compare them to experiences of students who attended traditional programs. The results indicate that students in environmental program outperform non-EE students on state standardized and school tests, show better academic achievement and improved attitude to school, and develop stronger ties with local communities and a stronger sense of environmental responsibility.