The Thomas Starr King Environmental STEAM Magnet program was created in 2011. In the middle of our eighth year, we strive to embrace the tenets of our commitment to environmental issues through science, tech, engineering, arts, and math. The Environmental STEAM Magnet (ESM) is the only middle school magnet of its kind. Our first year began with a sixth and seventh grade, and in the second year, we added an eighth grade to the Magnet. For the past eight years, we have provided opportunities for students from all over Los Angeles to participate in a rigorous, interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum in which environmental literacy is integrated into all subject areas. Students have also had the opportunity to participate in specialized electives and partner with community-based environmental and activist organizations. Our students continue to explore environmental issues incorporating science, technology, engineering, art and math. We have adopted 5 core values: “embrace sustainability,” “academic integrity,” “real-world connections,” “technology integration” and “harmony with the community.”
The instructional objectives of the ESM program are to produce learners who are aware of local and global environmental conditions and issues; renewable resources and recycling; sustainable gardening and food sources, health and nutrition, and the importance of community involvement and community service. This is incorporated into core instruction through project-based learning, interdisciplinary studies and supplemental experiential educational opportunities in partnership with community organizations.
Core Value One: Embrace Sustainability
Embrace sustainability means to adopt actions for sustainable living on a daily basis. For example, in ESM, we encourage students to walk, cycle, take public transport or car pool to school. We also encourage students to use reusable water bottles; to only buy what is needed, as 20-50% of the food we buy ends up in landfills; and to use fewer plastic products, which often ends up in oceans causing the death of marine animals.
Core Value Two: Academic Integrity
Academic integrity means: 1) to never cheat on exams, 2) to always cite the sources of ideas, writings, data and conclusions of others, and 3) to never plagiarize, that is to never present the work of another as one’s own. ESM students are taught how to paraphrase and how to cite printed and digital material. ESM teachers regularly remind students about the difference between academic integrity and academic dishonesty, and how they will handle cheaters.
Core Value Three: Real-World Connections
Learning is more meaningful when we can see the connections between knowledge and the world around us. Such connections can take different forms. For example, students can apply what they know to identify and solve issues within their communities. Also, students can make connections between what they are learning and their own cultural backgrounds and personal experiences. ESM students engage in activities that bring to the surface the multiple connections among disciplines, knowledge and the world.
Core Value Four: Technology Integration
Technology is the tools that are used to solve a problem. These tools could be things such as a calculator, a computer or a protractor or could also be the set of techniques, knowledge, skills and methods used to solve a problem. It is important to have a plan before using technology. Otherwise, the use of technology could be burdensome and lead nowhere. At ESM, we believe in using technology appropriately to solve problems and to support the curriculum.
Core Value Five: Harmony with the Community
Harmony with the community is getting along with others, as well as valuing peace, inclusion and social cooperation over conflict, discrimination and competition. At our school, we build on the fundamental practices of restorative justice to accomplish harmony with the community. Examples of concrete restorative justice practices at our magnet include, but are not limited to, assemblies to disseminate behavior and academic expectations, campaigns to promote social justice, activities to “build community”, and the use of Peace Circles to solve conflicts in the classroom.