Valley School’s participation in Fridays For Future, a global climate strike movement, is one manifestation of our focus this year on environmental justice. During the weeks leading up to the march, students at all grades discussed the meanings of these two ideas – environment and justice – and started to identify actions we can take to care for the earth. The climate march is an example of our “practice of community” and our focus on deep and purposeful learning, when reflection and action intersect; when students think critically and act responsibly; when children begin to make connections between their own learning, their lives, and the world around them; and when they develop a sense of their own agency.
Our focus this year on environmental justice builds directly on our work last year on anti-racism education. Throughout the year, we were reminded that all children, when guided by thoughtful and grounded teachers, are capable of learning about challenging and complicated topics. Our emphasis on justice is an acknowledgement that systems within our society – systems of racism, inequality, sexism, and oppression – are both cause and effect of this climate crisis. Our focus on the environment and climate change taps into the curiosity that all children share about the natural world and the commitment they feel for the wellbeing of all animals, plants, and fellow humans. Our goal is to create learning experiences that give our students the knowledge, the tools, and the experiences that allow them to look at the state of our natural world and take action, with a balanced sense of both urgency and hope.
As a faculty, we are also actively engaged, in this moment, in our own learning about environmental justice. Over the summer, everyone who works at Valley read a book on this topic. The book I read, All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, a collection of essays by women, presented both the grim realities of the climate crisis and the opportunities for effective action. As we did last year with This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 lessons on how to wake up, take action, and do the work, we are taking the year to read through Mary DeMocker’s The Parents’ Guide to Climate Revolution: 100 ways to build a fossil-free future, raise empowered kids, and still get a good night’s sleep. This book, like last year’s, gives us a source of inspiration and resources and a common language for our work. I encourage Valley families to read along with us.
In keeping with the school-wide approach we used last year, all Valley teachers are centering their lessons on common questions that will be woven, in different age-appropriate ways, through the many strands of the curriculum.
1) How can I make just environmental choices?
2) How do people in my community work for environmental justice, and who can we
partner with to work for environmental justice?
3) How can I work to make systemic change for environmental justice?
This fall, we researched and vetted various local and national organizations with whom we can partner as we develop lessons and community activities that advance our commitments to environmental justice. Our plan is to work in concert with Roots and Shoots, the organization founded by conservationist and primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall. Its Four-Step Formula – Get Engaged, Observe, Take Action, Celebrate – will provide a framework for the projects that Valley children will engage in throughout the year.
Valley School’s commitment to environmental justice is seen in both the classroom and the boardroom. Following a vote in June by the Board of Trustees, the school has begun moving a majority of our reserves to ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) funds. These funds, as opposed to more traditional stocks, pay close attention to the policies and practices of companies that support values such as environmental sustainability, “green” energy, racial and gender equity, and ethical business practices. This shift in policy towards ESG investing allows The Valley School to bring greater integrity to the management of the school’s finances, and thus greater alignment between our educational and our institutional values.
At The Valley School, in ways both modest and ambitious, we seek to be advocates for and agents of change. This year and in the years to come, we commit ourselves to lessons, activities, and policies that promote the preservation of a healthy planet for future generations.