18 Apr The Gunston School: Aligning Mission with Curriculum through Sustainability Education
The 2017 National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference brought in approximately 5,500 participants, all eager to unpack this year’s theme: Make your Mission Matter. Teachers and administrators explored ways to connect their school mission and curriculum through workshops centered around six sub-themes: Developing Wellbeing, Nurturing Curiosity, Leading Innovation, Changing the World, Embracing Diversity, and Cultivating Community. One such workshop featured the work of Emily Beck and her team at The Gunston School. By incorporating sustainability into their mission and curricular process, the team at Gunston shows us how curriculum mapping can support school change and reinforce integral school values.
The Gunston School launched a strategic planning process in 2014 that has rippled through the school and generated a tidal wave of innovation. Our strategic plan offered us the opportunity to review and revise our mission, initiated the creation of an environmental strategic plan, and helped accelerate the school’s growth.
School Mission and Philosophy
The Gunston School is a small, independent, high school located in Centreville, Maryland. Our location, on 35 acres along the Corsica River—a tidal tributary to the Chesapeake Bay, has helped drive the school’s character and environmental identity. We crafted our mission statement to reflect the importance of place within our educational program.
The Gunston School offers an intellectually rigorous, highly personalized, and nurturing college preparatory educational experience. Valuing a healthy balance between mind and body, a strong sense of community, the creative process, and our connection to the Chesapeake Bay, Gunston strives to educate ethically and environmentally minded scholars, citizens, and leaders for our globalized society.
Our mission is further supported by our Statements of Philosophy, including our philosophy on Educating for Sustainability (EfS).
Gunston acknowledges the interrelatedness of all species and the vital role that every human being plays as part of the biosphere. Moreover, because the school believes that environmental stress is a central challenge facing humanity, we seek to inspire in all members of our school community a commitment to environmental responsibility by placing three tenets of “sustainability”—ecological integrity, social justice, and economic vitality—at the center of our institutional and curricular efforts. Through classwork and co-curricular programming, an ongoing pursuit of sustainable practices, intensive and rigorous environment-based educational experiences for all students across all disciplines, and diverse environmental stewardship opportunities for students, we fulfill our mission of educating environmentally-minded scholars, citizens, and leaders.
Educating for Sustainability
As Gunston’s Sustainability Coordinator, I work closely with our faculty as we review our teaching in light of Educating for Sustainability. EfS offers three lenses through which to consider our teaching: the environment, social equality, and economic vitality. We have found EfS to be a powerful connector of our global and environmental education efforts. EfS extends sustainability education beyond the purview of the Science Department , embracing the 10th grade English and History unit on the American Dream, offering interdisciplinary work for the Math department, and connecting to our innovative Chesapeake Bay Studies courses.
Sustainability Reporting Using Atlas
Each year Gunston reports on its sustainability actions and efforts as part of our annual report. Sustainability reports are the norm for many industries but remain rare in the education field. One challenge in creating the report is generating statistics around teaching and learning. We are using our Atlas maps to address that limitation.
Gunston has used Atlas for our curriculum maps for many years. We are adapting the Search feature of Atlas to provide metrics on the extent of EfS existing within our curriculum. As faculty review their maps for our midterm accreditation review, they are adding tags to unit and lesson descriptions including EfS, sustainability, environment, environment-based learning and a variety of global and environmental issues. These tags then become searchable and statistics can be generated based on the search query. Our sustainability report in 2018 will feature our first analysis of curriculum integration.
Thank you Emily for sharing with us The Gunston School’s process toward developing mission driven curriculum! Interested in learning more about innovative ways schools are using and adapting curriculum? Check out our Curriculum Spark blogs!
Emily Beck serves as The Gunston School’s Sustainability Coordinator and Bay Studies Program Director. Prior to coming to Gunston, Emily spent three years in Charlottesville, VA serving as the program director of the environmental education nonprofit, The Green Adventure Project.
Emily has over ten years of formal and non-formal teaching experiences and has worked for many notable environmental education organizations including Shelburne Farms, National Audubon Society, and W. Alton Jones Center of University of Rhode Island. She taught at the Woolman Semester, a Quaker semester school in California, and the Westtown School.
Emily holds a B.A. in Environmental Biology from Colgate University, and a M.S. in Environmental Studies from Antioch University New England with a focus in conservation biology and ecological literacy.