USF, Hillsborough schools partner for sustainability


As sustainability and global warming have come to the forefront of political debate in the last few decades, some grade schools and nonprofits are making efforts to educate younger students about sustainable living.

USF’s Patel College of Global Sustainability received funding from the Magnet School Assistance Program grant to partner with the Hillsborough County Public Schools in an initiative to educate students on the importance of a sustainable environment.

The program was established in 2011 when a master’s student at the Patel College reached out to the science coordinator for Hillsborough County schools. Talks of collaborative projects led to getting teachers involved, which eventually expanded to cover a number of schools throughout the county.

The partnership, which includes creating lesson plans, organizing fieldtrips, providing mentors and facilitating science projects, is funded by part of a $3 million grant Hillsborough County public schools received in 2010.

With the help of environmental studies and policy students working as mentors, the Global Sustainability program has been able to reach Hillsborough County students in Lockhart Elementary Magnet School, Young Middle Magnet School, Dowdell Middle Magnet School, and Monroe Middle School through the funding of the grant.

Alyssa Vinson, education partnership coordinator at the Patel College of Global Sustainability, works as a liaison between the schools and the Patel College.

Vinson said the Global Sustainability program aims to work with teachers and administrators within each school to incorporate sustainability and environmental studies themes throughout the curriculum.

“We try to make connections between a language arts class and a sustainability lesson, for example,” she said. “We want to show teachers how they can get these ideas into their core curriculum.”

When language arts teachers in Dowdell were introducing the different methods of writing poems to their students, they were encouraged to take students outside the classroom environment so they could use nature as an outlet of inspiration for their poems.

The Patel College is also helping to facilitate the Eco-Mentorship Program at Middleton High School. The program focuses on teaming up the high school students with USF environmental science and policy students who work as mentors for their research projects.

“It’s great for the kids because they get to conduct real scientific research as well as the USF students, because they are able to teach and learn from their experiences,” Vinson said.

A current project students and mentors are working on at Dowdell is about the use of organic agriculture versus conventional agriculture.

Using tomato plants as their source for testing, mentors and students practiced different agricultural methods on two different tomato plants and measured their biomasses at the end to see which methods were more successful.

But the program isn’t limited to just the school campuses.

Vinson said she attended a camping trip with students from Dowdell, where her group went seine netting, looking at moon snails and several other creatures in the environment.

Through experiences like this, Vinson said she is able to introduce kids to the prospect of interacting with the environment and forming a connection between humans and wildlife.

“Teachers don’t have the time to reach out and get resources or expand what they can do in their classrooms,” she said. “So what I can do is research the different resources that are available and contact certain people to coordinate all of the work.”

The goal of this program is to get all the teachers to push the sustainability curriculum throughout different classes. They hope to see this partnership fuel all the other schools to teach sustainability and incorporate it across the board.

Because of the limitations of the grant, the program is focused just on Hillsborough County schools, but as time progresses and more resources become available, Vinson said they hope they can expand the program to reach more scores in the area.