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The Gordon School

Sustainability at Gordon

In the classroom, in the outdoors, and in the management of our twelve-acre campus

With twelve acres of fields, woods and wetlands, and a commitment to teaching children to advocate for what they believe in, Gordon is a perfect laboratory for environmental education.

In every grade, scientific discoveries are coupled with lessons in how to care for and steward the earth. Before Early Childhood students hatch chickens from eggs, they learn about what their young chicks will need in order to grow. Lower School pond explorations come with lessons in fighting erosion and maintaining water quality. Middle School experiments with seedlings lead to revelations about soil integrity, water quality, and the devastating impact of pollution.

As a leader in the independent school community, Gordon is continually finding ways to generate systemic change in defense of the earth, from simple updates in lighting to the creation of a regional consortium supporting locally produced renewable energy.

Sustainability work - from classroom learning to campus-wide practices - is embedded deeply in Gordon's strategic vision, A more just and sustainable world. Specific action items range from a reimagining of Gordon’s lunch program to the creation of a Gordon Green Fund to finance sustainable building and maintenance projects that generate cost-savings and reduce environmental impact. At the heart of all of that work is the continued commitment to educating children to be compassionate leaders in sustainability work and environmental justice.

Recent work includes:

In 2019, dozens of Gordon students participated in the Climate Strike in downtown Providence. Gordon's Middle School cohort was drawn from the Sustainability in Action elective, and chaperoned by science faculty. 

In 2022, Gordon invited dozens of students from local public and independent schools to the first US convening of the Beyond COP21 Symposium, an international youth organizing effort led by Peter Milne of Target4Green. The event centers on the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement and addressing the global climate crisis, and builds on the sixth grade's annual study of the United Nations, diplomacy and global activism.

Students tend gardens and raised beds across Gordon's campus, and in the spring of 2022, the most ambitious garden project to date began. Eighth graders submitted designs for a year-round community garden that used culturally appropriate growing practices rooted in environmental, social, and racial justice.

Ground was broken on the winning design in April 2023, and that fall, students continued to build out a project that will include an outdoor classroom and food forest highlighting native species, while faculty from all three divisions develop an integrated eleven-year curriculum for the space.

Combined with classroom vermiculture and indoor greenhouse spaces, the community gardens bring Gordon close to the dream of hosting a true, twelve-month, schoolwide program of food production.

In early 2022, Gordon established a consortium of local schools and nonprofits directing their annual electricity budget to support locally produced hydroelectric power. The partnership offered ways to build on classroom curricula, too. The fifth grade class had experimented with designs for wind turbine blades using a laser cutter as part of their study of wind energy. In conjunction with this unit, they toured Gravity Renewables Hydropower plant in Pawtucket to see how renewable energy is being generated locally. Other recent initiatives to make Gordon's buildings and grounds more energy-efficient include LED lightbulbs, new skylights, increased insulation, and a white rubber roof.

In an interdisciplinary initiative for their science and humanities classes, sixth grade focused on habitat restoration for the stream running through Gordon's campus, identifying and removing invasive plant species and planting native species in their place. They worked with URI Master Gardeners to select native plants based the environmental needs of the Gordon campus. Third graders became stewards of the campus pond, analyzing historical photographic evidence along with water samples to evaluate the pond's health. They then made recommendations to the Buildings and Grounds Committee (which were then shared with the Department of Environmental Management) in an effort to keep the pond a fixture of Gordon’s outdoor learning spaces.

Sustainability stories from Gordon's blog