We envision our magnet as a model of environmental literacy in middle school, one that inspires students and the community to adopt actions for sustainable living.
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.
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.”
Embrace sustainability means to adopt actions for sustainable living on a daily basis. For example, in our magnet we encourage students to walk, cycle, take public transport or car pool to school. We use reusable water bottles and fewer other plastic products, which often end up in oceans causing the death of marine animal. We also recycle paper and plastic which keeps landfills from growing. We encourage everyone to only buy what is needed, including food, as 20-50% of the food we buy ends up in landfills.
Academic integrity means: to always try your best, never cheat on exams, always cite the sources of ideas, writings, data and conclusions of others, and 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.
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, ESM students apply what they know to identify and solve issues within their community. Also, students 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.
Technology is the tools that are used to solve a problem. These tools could be things such as a calculator, a computer, a tablet or a protractor. Technology is also the set of techniques, knowledge, skills and methods used to solve problems. It is important to have a plan before using technology. Otherwise, the use of technology could be burdensome and lead nowhere. At ESM, we use technology appropriately to solve problems and to enhance teaching and learning.
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, 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.
To have a growth mindset is to believe that intelligence can be developed. Research shows that students who have a growth mindset outperform others with a fixed mindset. In our Magnet, teachers strongly promote a growth mindset in their daily practice. We believe that all students can learn, and we are also committed to help every student experience that through effort and dedication they can learn anything and become smarter.