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Teaching sustainability strengthens Eastern partnership with Windham school

Published on August 17, 2023

Teaching sustainability strengthens Eastern partnership with Windham school

From left, Barrows student Richelle Eaton (in background), Eastern's Institute for Sustainability Director Patty Szczys, and Barrows students Zach Embser and Noah Gallagher

Barrows students (from left) Ethan Taylor, Jose Torres, and teacher Christian Kollegger at last spring’s presentation of their work at Eastern

Barrows student Victor Manuel Barrera Garcia presented his work on sustainability at Eastern last spring.

At last spring’s Eastern presentation (from left): Barrows student Lillyana Izquierdo, teacher Christian Kolleger, and students Josiah Cruz, Victor Manuel Barrera Garcia, Luke Spellman, Institute for Sustainability Director Patty Szczys, and student Jehelie Blanco

A growing collaboration between Eastern Connecticut State University’s Institute for Sustainability and the eighth-grade science classes at the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy in Windham received a boost this past summer when Barrows science teacher Nick Kukla ’19 was named a “sustainability advocate” by the Global Schools Program sponsored by the United Nations. 

Kukla was one of 3,400 teachers from 100 countries to apply for the program’s advocacy training and resources. The goal of Global Schools is to train teachers in sustainable development goals and increase awareness by students and teachers of how they can use the goals in classrooms and curricula.

At Barrows, eighth graders are required to complete a project that solves a problem using one of the global sustainable development goals. Their projects are displayed at Eastern in the spring as part of the Barrows-Institute of Sustainability partnership. 

Nick Kukla '19, sustainability advocate and teacher at Barrows STEM Academy

“We as educators really try to emphasize that we want them to tie it back to actionable things they can do in their community,” Kukla said.

Last year’s eighth graders tackled problems such as food insecurity in Willimantic, which resulted in donations to local food banks, and selling bracelets to draw attention to the problem of under-age marriages around the world.

Kukla and Nicole Bay, the STEM coordinator at Barrows, are also working with Patricia Szczys, director of Eastern's Institute for Sustainability, to help teachers integrate the U.N.’s sustainability goals into their lesson plans and to develop student-led programs on composting and auditing food waste at Barrows.

"These efforts have never been more important than they are now," said Szczys. "Barrows is preparing the next generation to understand the challenges we face in society: climate change, environment, and pursuit of equitable prosperity. These students will think critically and creatively to contribute to meaningful solutions."

Students “really feel connected to these problems they’re identifying,” said Kukla, who teaches science to 60 eighth graders at Barrows.

Kukla majored in biology and minored in political science at Eastern and has long been interested in sustainability issues.

“It’s always been at the forefront of my mind,” he said.

The U.N.’s Global Schools Program, which began in 2018, covers 1,560 schools in more than 100 countries.

Written by Lucinda Weiss