When I share the name of my job title: Sustainability Coordinator at the Paideia School, I often get a puzzled look that prompts me to launch into varied explanations about what it is that I actually do here. The variation in my explanation is based on what I have been up to that week or what is coming up next on my calendar. My work here is best explained by providing a recap of my recent endeavors. I am in my first year of employment at Paideia and the position is new as well. This position is not unique to our school, it exists at many colleges and universities, at other independent schools, and public schools.
I have been told by my colleagues that the road towards creating my position has been being paved for a long time. Since the school’s inception in 1971, sustainability has been woven into the fabric of the school in a variety of ways. A “Commitment to an Environmental View” is listed as one of our priorities in our school’s Framework of Values. We have a robust urban agriculture program, two LEED certified buildings, an annual zero waste Thanksgiving feast that feeds all of our 1,000 students plus staff, and a multitude of many other sustainability related traditions and teachings that I am continually discovering.
At the 2017 Green Schools Conference held here in Atlanta this March I had the opportunity to meet with and hear from other people from across the nation who share the same job title as me and are familiar with this type of work. I also learned that this job title manifests itself in a variety of ways, definitions and duties can differ greatly between different institutions. Some people have adopted the role of sustainability coordinator in practice only as opposed to being hired into an official title. For others the role was assigned to them in addition to an existing position held at their school, and some people work across entire school districts. I have learned that there is a wide brush stroke with which this job title can be interpreted.
So what does this position mean for Paideia? The majority of my job is instructional. I have the privilege of working with a phenomenally creative and committed staff. Teachers invite me into their classes to assist with sustainability education around a variety of topics and across grade levels. A smaller portion of my job involves working on projects and planning for sustainability in our practices and procedures.
In my guest teaching adventures, I have worked with second and third graders helping them to understand the science behind climate change and how they can reduce their own carbon footprints. I have taken high school students enrolled in the environmental literature class on local nature hikes, engaging them in developing their sense of place and sharpening their observational skills. I have worked with first and second graders learning about the waste cycle, examining their own waste footprints, and how to reduce the waste they generate. They identified a problem with trash being left behind by our high school students and we developed a video action project to address it, and then presented our video to the high school students at an assembly. This week I am working with the eighth grade physical science classes where they have been studying pH. We are applying their knowledge of acids and bases by exploring the issue of ocean acidification. We are working to understand current research on the topic as well as conducting both virtual and hands-on lab activities.
On my “to do” list is improving on sustainable sourcing for our events, getting students involved with more citizen science projects on our campus, establishing more outdoor learning spaces, and embracing opportunities as they develop.
I am fortunate that this is the only job title that I hold at the Paideia School, and that I have been given this opportunity to continue the development of our school’s commitment to sustainability education. In addition to rehashing my most recent work days when people ask me to clarify what I actually do as a Sustainability Coordinator, I also happily add that this is my dream job and I believe that it was created for me.