On October 13, Ross School students in grades 1–12 gathered together on the Upper School campus to spend the day focused on how they can help make the world a better place by engaging in sustainability practices in a variety of areas. The Sustainability Teach-In was designed by the Ross Sustainability Committee, with the support of Founder Courtney Sale Ross, to foster active dialogue among students of all grade levels about not only the definition of sustainability and how we practice sustainability in our daily routines, but also how Ross students, as global community members, can promote lifelong sustainable practices to others.
The schoolwide teach-in was a truly unifying experience between the two campuses. Senior “buddies” greeted Lower School students upon their arrival and ushered them into a rousing reception in the Great Hall. “It was a really rewarding experience making someone feel welcome and at the same time sharing in a common learning experience,” said senior Julia R. After an opening ceremony that included music, a welcome from Heads of School Chris Angell and Jeanette Tyndall, and a reading of the preamble to the Ross Declaration of Principles on Sustainability and the Environment, students and teachers broke into groups for the morning’s workshops.
The workshops were divided into five topics: water, earth, air, fire/energy, and culture. Each grouping addressed a central thematic question on the need for immediate implementation of sustainable practices. Students conducted investigations illustrating the damaging effects of our everyday output of pollution, played games to understand the tragedy of the commons (the concept that individuals acting in their own self-interest can behave contrary to the best interests of a whole group by depleting a common resource), and watched startling videos about the exponential rate of damage occurring with regard to Earth’s fragile resources. Reflecting on the crisis, one student said, “It's so urgent, because if we don't fix it now, we don't know what it will become. We need to find a way to fix it, to redeem ourselves."
Upon reconvening in the Great Hall, school leaders summed up the day with final remarks. Brett Smith, who was recently named Ross School’s Sustainability Coordinator, spoke about proposed next steps in the process of examining the school’s commitment to sustainability, including an after-school action club for students, on-campus screenings of documentaries focused on environmental issues, and solar-powered charging stations for phones and computers. Then each group ceremoniously presented scrolls of the Declaration of Principles on Sustainability and the Environment, signed by each group member, to the administrators, and recited in unison the document’s preamble: “We affirm and declare the Ross Declaration of Principles concerning the sustainability of our global environment.” They then proceeded en masse to the athletic fields for the ceremonial release of milkweed seeds.
Lower School Science teacher Bryan Smith orchestrated planting the milkweed, which is vital to sustaining Long Island’s monarch populations. In an attempt to increase the local monarch butterfly population, Bryan has been working with his students to plant milkweed for a while, and he hopes that the seeds released on the Upper School campus find a place to grow. “It was nice to share this with the older students,” Bryan said. “Visually, it was also impressive to see the giant clouds of milkweed seeds we were releasing.”
The sustainability teach-in pushed students and teachers to understand the issues more deeply, apply their understanding of systems thinking and sustainability—both threads throughout the Ross curriculum—and, think about the things humans can do to make a long-term difference in the preservation of precious resources, emphasizing the idea that we can no longer afford to disregard the global implications of our everyday decisions.
Mark Foard and Junellen Tiska, co-directors of curriculum and professional development at Ross, were instrumental in facilitating the teach-in, which Mark Foard described as “a demonstrative step in making sustainability important for the school.” Reflecting further, he added, “I think the other aspects, including having the Lower School and Upper School together—not just students but also teachers working together—brought a level of community that I haven’t experienced before. We have a lot to learn from each other and a lot to celebrate with each other.” The communal energy exhibited throughout the day is sure to propel Ross School’s commitment to a sustainable future, starting here at home and spreading throughout the globe.