ECS Teachers & Students Lead Southern California in Exploration of Environmental Leadership



"Green Ambassadors Institute is a leading-edge group of inspiring educators, open-minded students and amazing ideas! If you want to see the future of effective education in action today, bring your time, talent & treasure to GAI!"

– Mike Reid, GAI Participant

This year, more than 100 educators, students and community partners gathered at Environmental Charter Schools campuses to explore environmental justice in action through a series of events facilitated by our own students and teachers. Green Ambassadors Institute (GAI) — the learning lab and professional development incubator of Environmental Charter Schools — is working to reframe environmental education in the urban setting, modeling how schools can be sites of civic action and solutions-based thinking by authentically engaging youth, educators, community leaders and environmental advocates as partners.

In a series of three events, participants engaged with groups steeped in hands-on environmental work in Southern California and then collaborated on how to take ideas back to their own communities. A ‘curriculum hack,’ piloted at the final GAI session, gave participants the opportunity to co-create community-based curriculum aimed at engaging students in addressing our region’s most pressing environmental challenges.

“GAI has created a collaborative, transformational experience for educators to get the knowledge and support that they need to go beyond the classroom, to address community needs and to engage their students on sustainability issues in LA.”

– GAI participant

A Framework for Environmental Justice

At the first GAI session, Dr. Laura Pulido, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC and author of A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, provided a framework for environmental justice work in Los Angeles through history, data and case studies. She encouraged educators to engage youth in environmental activism in their own communities and shared practical tools that they could incorporate into their own curriculum. Participants walked away committed to sharing with their students how environmental issues are also issues of justice.

The kickoff summit also highlighted the important work of local environmental organizations including Communities for A Better Environment, From Lot to Spot, LA Rooted, Kiss the Ground, TreePeople, City Plants and Enviroscape LA. Community partners led workshop sessions that examined the biodiversity of Los Angeles through a lens of social justice.


[Photo]: Laura Pulido addressing GAI participants in her keynote. Click here to see the rest of the photos from the Green Ambassadors Institute kickoff summit.

Environmental Justice In Action: Field Trips

When is the last time that you rode a bicycle for professional development? On the second day of GAI programming, local community partners led us in an exploration of environmental justice around Los Angeles, sharing their resources, stories and engagement strategies.

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice led a bike ride in City of Commerce and the LA River to reveal the toxic pollution of trucks and rail yards in Southeast Los Angeles, as well as the ways that community members have organized for environmental justice in the community.


[Photo]: Green Ambassadors Institute participants on the bike ride in Commerce led by East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. Click here to see the rest of the photos from the Green Ambassadors Field Trip Day.

Communities for a Better Environment led a Toxic Tour in Wilmington and San Pedro. The tour exposed the realities of living in a frontline community — a community most impacted by toxic pollutants and environmental inequality. The tour also showcased successful grassroots community organizing efforts that have led to many environmental justice victories.


[Photo]: Ashley Hernandez of Communities For A Better Environment takes another group of educators on a tour of Wilmington's oil drilling sites and refineries that cause severe health problems for residents. She shares how community members have organized to combat pollution.

Los Angeles Rooted led a work-day at the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve to clear away dead willow trees that had been killed by an invasive beetle species. They also led a workshop about Los Angeles’ watersheds and creative ways to save water in California’s drought.


[Photo]: Green Ambassadors Institute participants teamed up with students from Big Citizen Hub to gather fallen wood killed by the beetles and bring it to the chipper at the Gardena Willows Nature Preserve at a work day led by LA Rooted.

The willingness of community members to share their stories of struggle and resilience opened up a space to generate projects that would serve not only student learning, but simultaneously, relevant community needs.

Let’s Hack the Curriculum

In an effort to tie it all together and put it into action across our communities, educators, nonprofits, businesses, students and policymakers gathered to "hack the curriculum." Participants who had been awarded mini-grants to implement a project with their students showcased their approach and results. Through a collaborative process, teachers, students and community partners co-created lessons, unit plans and field trips that participants could take home to implement in their own schools and communities. Ashoka, Educators Consortium for Service Learning and Global Youth Service Day collaborated with ECS to host an inspiring event.

Hack groups addressed essential questions such as:

  • “How can we undo environmental injustices within our communities in order to keep people safe and healthy?”
  • “How do we translate regional habitats and ecosystems into neighborhood specific knowledge and skills that students would find important?”
  • “How does the LA watershed impact quality of life?”

It was invigorating for attendees to sit and plan curriculum with students who would be participating in it. One student shared, “Participating in the Green Ambassadors Institute showed me that I have a voice and people want to hear what I have to say about preserving my community.”


 [Photo]: Green Ambassadors Institute participants hack the curriculum together at ECHS. Click here to see the rest of the photos from the Curriculum Hack.

This year's Green Ambassadors Institute united educators, environmental leaders and change-makers in generative professional development. ECS is grateful and honored to serve as a hub for the bright ideas of teachers, community advocates and youth across Southern California.


The next Green Ambassadors Institute series will kick off on Monday, October 3, 2016.

Please join us and contribute your voice!

Sub costs will be reimbursed for classroom teachers.

For more information, visit

Originally published at