Sustainability-centered community action projects meet the guiding principles of education for sustainable development, which call for changes in the way we think and act. Community action projects challenge students to constructively and creatively learn about and address current and future sustainability challenges facing their community—applying classroom lessons to the real-world. With guidance from educators and community partners, students research sustainability issues in depth, and implement projects that address sustainability issues of their choice on a local level.

Here are four models for sustainability-centered community action projects that are especially well-suited for high school students.

Public Service Announcements

Through public service announcements (PSAs), students raise awareness of sustainability issue(s) with local community members.

RESEARCH

Before developing a PSA, students must conduct research on the economic, environmental or equity challenges facing their community. Local newspapers, government websites, and universities often collect this type of data.

ACTION

PSAs can take various forms, allowing students to exercise their broad range of talents. Students with strong writing skills can develop newspaper articles, and prepare pamphlets to be distributed throughout the neighborhood. Students with creative backgrounds can use their skills to craft poems, songs, advertisements or even murals that broadcast the message of their PSA. No matter their skill set or favorite discipline, every student engaged in the project can help plan a school celebration that promotes their PSA’s message.

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle modification assignments encourage students to reflect on what they buy, eat and do, and analyze how their lifestyle choices affect sustainability on a local level. Everything from shopping to transportation choices fall under this category.

CONSUMER RESEARCH

Students research and investigate local stores and businesses to determine their level of investment in the sustainability of the community.

Example research questions:

  • How much of this grocery store’s food is sourced from local farmers?
  • Does this business hire local community members?
  • Does this business have a track record of supporting local causes or institutions?

ACTION

Students design a sustainable shopping guide that offers clear guidance on how to exercise one’s local citizenship and adopt more sustainable shopping habits. Taking things a step forward, students can transform this informative guide into a community-wide appeal, encouraging parents and households to commit to shopping with local suppliers and retailers that support the sustainability of the community.

Example action items:

  • Purchasing food directly from farmers
  • Shopping at secondhand fashion stores
  • Shopping less frequently

 

Ecological Research

Students conduct research on what local schools, students and households local can do on a daily basis to better protect the environment, on a daily base.

Example research questions:

  • Are there any animals local to the area that are endangered?
  • Are there any plants local to the area that are endangered?
  • How does the lifestyle that most families lead (ie. gardening, transportation, waste disposal) improve or disrupt the local ecology of the area?

Example action items:

  • Create a buddy system that encourages more students to walk or bike to school together
  • Promote and orchestrate neighborhood clean ups
  • Clean up local bodies of water
  • Raise funds to install more bike racks on school grounds
  • Establish a community garden
  • Raise funds for classes to take hiking or canoeing trips
  • Help parents or schools plant trees or flowers that are better for bees

 

Taking Political Action

Students visit government agencies, and conduct interviews with officials in charge of policy priorities that affect the community’s sustainable development.

RESEARCH

First, students must determine which of department(s) from their local government, or NGOs, are spearheading initiatives that promote local sustainability. When planning to conduct interviews, students can reference each organization’s website as well as LinkedIn to identify who is in charge and find their contact information.

Example questions for government officials

  • What can citizens of our town/city do to support current sustainability initiatives?
  • How can citizens get involved or submit their ideas to local officials?
  • How can students, specifically, get involved?

 

Example questions for NGO officials

  • How can citizens support your organization?
  • How does your organization work with our government leaders to effect sustainability change?
  • How can students, specifically, get involved?

 

ACTION

Once students have gotten all of the facts, they can develop community action plans that mobilize local community members to take political action.

Example action items:

  • Work with the school PTA to present a sustainability concern to local government officials at a public meeting
  • Prepare letters or petitions for students and families to sign and present to local government officials

 

Conclusion

Don’t be afraid to think big when drafting a plan for students to implement sustainability-centered community action projects. When thinking through these four models, pay special attention to how these projects can address cross-curricular requirements. Which classes or clubs can be involved to make this an initiative that the entire school – and community – can get behind?

And remember, these projects are intended to be student-centered. Your questions and directives should be open-ended, and stress that students take the lead on designing, developing and implementing their project. How they choose to empower themselves and their community to take action on sustainability should be a reflection of their personal passion, interests and academic/career goals.

Barack Obama Green Charter High School
Barack Obama Green Charter High School is New Jersey's first sustainability-focused charter school, cultivating the next generation of STEM and environmental leaders, with a 100% college acceptance rate!