Bridging the Socioeconomic Divide in Environmental Education and Sustainability Studies in New York City Public High Schools
CitationHeuer, Beth. 2019. Bridging the Socioeconomic Divide in Environmental Education and Sustainability Studies in New York City Public High Schools. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractGiven the exigencies of climate change, it is crucial to foster environmental awareness, practices, and leadership among the rising generation of students. Nevertheless, in the age of common core standards and ‘teaching to the test,’ public schools rarely have the resources or impetus to prioritize environmental education. This gap is particularly acute in schools that serve low-income communities of color. Focusing on NYC, this study assessed the potential benefits of teaching a course focused on eco-justice within a regular course slot (Advanced Placement English). Because resources for environmental education are often limited, the course was designed within a traditional framework, so that no additional organizational capacity or partnerships with outside organizations would be required to offer the it. The study hypothesized that, by focusing on eco-justice, such a course would stimulate student engagement with environmental issues and promote environmental need for cognition.
A case study methodology was employed. Two iterations of such a course were offered at the Academy for Environmental Leadership in Brooklyn, New York, which disproportionately serves low-income students of color. Both iterations of the course presented local as well as global eco-justice issues, emphasizing the disproportionate burdens that climate change places on low-income, non-white populations. Findings suggest that both iterations of the course effectively promoted student engagement with, and critical reflection on, environmental issues. The second iteration of the course, which allowed students to pursue research questions in non-local contexts was particularly effective at stimulating both engagement and environmental need for cognition. The study considered best practices for such a course and suggested how it might be tailored for use across various New York City communities and beyond.
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