Southwest wants to do its part to protect our communities and make the world a better place for future generations by respecting and valuing our resources. To help create a positive environmental impact in the communities we serve, we have partnerships with a variety of environmentally focused groups, including EcoRise. Through our partnership, this summer we were able to provide transportation to EcoRise members to attend EcoRise’s first Summer Institute.
For months, I looked forward to EcoRise’s first Summer Institute for Teacher Ambassadors and District Partners in Austin, Texas. Initially, I expected the institute to be a productive gathering of National Ambassadors working to become like-minded in EcoRise’s mission. I thought we were going to create change in our individual communities upon leaving. What happened during that time, however, was much greater.
On Sunday, July 29, Ambassadors from across the United States arrived in Austin thanks to the generous support of Southwest Airlines. The majority of us flew Southwest from all over to attend this conference, which was a perfect way to kick off the weekend! Fresh from my flight (which was complete with an entertaining and accommodating Southwest Crew), Kristi Hibler-Luton, EcoRise’s Texas Program Manager, welcomed me at the airport along with two key District Partners from Sacramento, California--Rachel King and Sandy San Ahmadi. From the moment we settled into Kristi’s car, I knew the friendly, open culture of EcoRise was the right fit for me. Kristi’s level of interest in our lives back in our communities was clear and genuine from the start.
I have always been captivated by EcoRise’s model, which is to teach students using a standards-aligned, project-based environmental curriculum; connect professionals to positive mentorship; and impact campuses with micro-grants that allow youth to bring their environmental solutions to fruition. But there’s a difference between reading about an organization’s model and actually experiencing it first-hand. The Summer Institute provided an invaluable opportunity to do the latter alongside my peers.
After dinner on our first night, the EcoRise staff, Teacher Ambassadors, and District Partners came together for both one-on-one and larger group conversations that were high-energy, focused, and engaged.
EcoRise Deputy Director, Jon Stott, asked participants to sit in a large circle and share a highlight from their summer. While the answers of this diverse group varied widely, one thing was clear: this was a group that enjoyed the outdoors. Hikes, rivers, oceans, and lakes came up in highlight after highlight. This was a group actively engaged in both enjoying nature in their free time and empowering students to protect its fragility while in the classroom.
On day two, we received a snapshot of the vision of EcoRise, engaged in a leadership workshop, and participated in a revelatory workshop on EcoRise’s Design Studio and Systems Thinking Curriculum led by EcoRise founder Gina LaMotte and Program Manager Kizzy Hannibal.
Our last day was filled with bittersweet emotions as the Summer Institute drew to a close. While we were equipped to represent the organization and recruit new educational professionals, we reminisced on each of our greatest takeaways from the institute. Beyond the excellent networking opportunities and professional resources, it was without a doubt the bonds we all formed that made the institute most valuable to each one of us.
Without the support of Southwest Airlines, it would not have been possible for such a like-minded group of teachers to close various geographical gaps and meet in person to discuss how to move forward on our respective home campuses in the new school year. Thanks to my training, it is now my goal to take advantage of all the organization’s available curriculum and utilize the new set of skills I learned to break through barriers that environmental educators across the country are faced with when working to empower a new generation of leaders to create a more sustainable world for all.
To learn more about EcoRise and their 2018–19 Cohort of Teacher Ambassadors click here.