As a college student in-between my junior and senior year, I did as most people in my position do, and chose to find an internship for the summer. I was fortunate enough to find an organization that combined my passion for environmentalism with my long-held enjoyment of working with children, the Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF).
CELF is a non-profit organization located in Valhalla, New York, which works to integrate education for sustainability into school curricula and culture. And even though school is out of session, our summer calendar was certainly not empty. My summer with CELF began fairly quickly, as two weeks into my internship was our first event: the Citizen Science Air Quality Symposium.
During the school year, CELF works with eight schools from across the New York area on Citizen Science, a project that empowers students to gather data on air quality in their own neighborhoods using a device called an Air Beam. The symposium provides these kids the opportunity to synthesize the data they have gathered, and formally present this information to members of the larger NYC community. Not only did the students impress, but they went above and beyond by establishing next-step actions, creating infographics, and demonstrating an incredible enthusiasm for this kind of immersive learning.
Soon after, I found myself at the sustainability festival at Putnam Valley Elementary School. Having worked with CELF for two years, the school chose to culminate their 2018-2019 school year with a celebration of the environment. Students travelled between four stations across the school’s campus, learning about the ecosystem of the nearby pond, the solar-wind pole in their parking lot, the changes in their own school landscape throughout history, and how they can promote food equity with their local soup kitchen.
My own role was centered at recess, where my co-intern Ella and I set up a table to teach students how to repurpose old t-shirts into reusable bags. Students were able to work together to complete the project, and the students took the environmental spirit even further by further repurposing shirt scraps as stylish headbands and accessories.
The remaining months of my internship were dedicated to the staple events of the summer at my organization, the CELF Summer Institutes. These multi-day professional development experiences bring together formal and non-formal educators in an effort to explore the best ways to forge sustainability champions out of today’s students.
This year, the first institute was held at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, and involved four days of speakers, interactive elective sessions, and work time. While many of the talks were by industry professionals, a local student who led the creation of a compost program at her high school was one of the most impactful speakers of the week.
Participants came from a variety of disciplines, including an English teacher and a librarian, which made for rich conversation and idea generation on how to best engage students in sustainability in the classroom. The learning community present at the institute was proof of the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability education.
Two weeks later, we travelled down to New York University’s campus for our second institute. A three-day experience this time, attendees were immersed in nearby Washington Square Park, engaging directly with nature as they reflected upon their own sustainability lessons. Speakers also presented participants with a wide range of sustainability topics, from pollinator education to student-driven curricula design to sustainable economics.
Participants ultimately left both institutes with a tangible, independently created framework for a lesson plan or project to bring back to their school or organization. But more than that, they walked away with a renewed sense of empowerment in their ability to forge real change-makers out of their students. Now having completed my time with CELF, I can confidently say that I walked away with the very same thing.
To learn more about the Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation’s work, click here.
By Casey Maslan, a Senior in the Environmental Studies Department at Boston College, and intern at Boyer Sudduth Environmental Consultants.