Education for Sustainability: How Did I Get Here?

June 13, 2016

Returning from Galapagos in late April after coordinating the launch of our Education for Sustainability Program, I reflected on how I got myself involved in all of this. After all, I am not an educator by training, and as my family and friends will tell you, I didn’t particularly enjoy school when I was young. In fact, I was known for all kinds of creative excuses for staying home from school or for not completing my homework.

Richard's son in Honduras

It all changed for me when my older son was about to turn three. We were living on the beautiful campus of Zamorano University in Honduras at the time, in an apartment just a few hundred feet away from the Alison Bixby Stone School, a small preK-8 school that was in the early stages of being transformed from a traditional rural public school into an amazing bilingual, internationally-accredited center of learning. Hearing the buzz of the children nearby, young Richard would regularly attempt — often successfully — to sneak out of our apartment to join the four and five year olds in the pre-school classes.

Every time I was called to the school to retrieve him, I was struck by the vibrant learning environment, which was unlike anything I had experienced as a child. Students were “learning-by-doing” — experimenting, building, debating, creating. Teachers were asking questions and challenging their students. There was a regular flow of teachers and students leaving for and returning from out-of-school learning activities. Parents would tell me about their kids’ deep love for learning and that most preferred going to school to being on vacation. Leveraging my son’s obvious fascination with the school, Board members invited me to join the transformation process. What I didn’t expect was that my involvement would have a profound impact on me and my appreciation for the power and potential of high-quality, well-focused prek-12 education.

education can help to ensure a society of engaged citizens committed to the long-term protection of this remarkable World Heritage site.

In 2011, now working with Galapagos Conservancy, I had the good fortune to be invited by the Galapagos-based Fundación Scalesia to join a similar transformation process at the Tomás de Berlanga (TdB) School on the island of Santa Cruz. While the TdB School was larger than the Alison Bixby (almost 200 students, compared to 80 students at the ABS when I first became involved) and was much further along in its development, many of the goals were the same, in terms of promoting high-quality, student-focused and place-based education. But the Fundación Scalesia was determined to extend this approach beyond its own school to every school and every classroom in Galapagos.

The Fundación Scalesia believes, as does Galapagos Conservancy, that the right kind of K-12 education can help young people to understand the inter-connectedness of the social, environmental, political and economic issues affecting Galapagos and the world beyond. It can increase the connection students feel with the natural environment and the relevance of education to their daily lives. But beyond developing knowledge and understanding, we believe that the kind of education being promoted at the Tomás de Berlanga School and at every other school in Galapagos, through our teacher training program, can prepare young people to act on their knowledge and to make a positive difference in their communities.

A teacher activity in Galapagos

In other words, education can help to ensure a society of engaged citizens committed to the long-term protection of this remarkable World Heritage site.

The Education for Sustainability Program is off to a terrific start. Our first Teacher Institute in April provided 40 hours of intensive, high-quality training to nearly 300 teachers in the Islands. Our two Galapagos-based instructional coaches have already organized professional learning communities (groups of teachers who meet weekly to support one another as they strengthen their professional skills) and are observing every teacher at work and are providing individualized feedback.

Our website and the recent blog posts authored by specialists involved in our Education for Sustainability Program provide more details about our progress and I’d be pleased to talk with anyone who would like to know more. For now, I’d like to extend some much-deserved thank you’s from Galapagos Conservancy to those who are making this program possible.

A teacher activity in Galapagos

First, we’d like to thank our colleagues at Ecuador’s Ministry of Education who have been so open to our ideas about how to best complement the impressive educational reform being carried out on a national scale. We are particularly grateful to Freddy Peñafiel (Vice Minister), Natasha Montalvo (National Director of Teacher Training) and Alia Hassan (National Director for International Cooperation) who have played an important role in the conceptualization and design of the program.

We’d also like to thank our growing group of donors who share our vision and who have been patient and supportive as we have built the strong partnerships and professional networks needed to make the program a success. In addition to the many Galapagos Conservancy members whose unrestricted gifts have supported this work, we would like to thank those whose targeted investments are helping to make the Tomás de Berlanga a demonstration school and teacher training center for Galapagos (Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Fund, Gina Colasacco, Buffy Redsecker and Alan Chung, Celebrity Expeditions, Judie Muggia, Cleve and Rae Hickman, the Pistell Family Foundation, and Randy and Sally Knight), those whose support has been invested in the design and implementation of the teacher-training component of our work (Kirke Lathrop, Gretchen Bauta, Ed Bass, Judie Muggia, Gina Colasacco, Kathleen Diamond, Leslie Lenny, Alice Long, Judy and Normand Smith, the Schaffner Family Foundation, the Tinker Foundation and the Bay and Paul Foundations), and those donors who have requested to remain anonymous.

A teacher activity in Galapagos

Finally, we would like to thank the amazing education specialists who have participated in the design and implementation of the program. Our Educational Advisory Team is comprised of more than 25 educators from the US, Ecuador and other parts of Latin America, who have extensive experience in teacher training and student-focused pedagogy. This talented team forms the core of the Education for Sustainability Program.

I look forward to sharing more information as our program advances. In the meantime, please feel free to email me at for additional information.

All photos © Jonathan Drake / T2T-i

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  1. sigvart horneman former recident of santa crus on

    thank you

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