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Environmental Studies

Environmental Studies Curriculum

Technology supported, environment-based education involves Carthay students in a rigorous approach to learning while developing love and respect for nature through outdoor experiences.  The Common Core Standards - as taught through Writer’s Workshop, Project Based Learning, and Eureka Math - provide the central processes for which students develop the critical thinking skills necessary to be life-long problem solvers to bring higher levels of economic prosperity and social cohesion, as well as to protect the environment.  Students recognize their role and responsibility to themselves, their neighbors, and become stewards of this world around them.       

As environmental instruction is integrated across the grades, themes unfold in lessons through multiple pathways: observing, discussing, writing, measuring, calculating, enacting, representing, etc.  Taught in this way, Math becomes part of real life experience and its relevance to investigating and comprehending reality becomes clear to students; Writing Workshop lessons take off from “collections” that have their start in the garden; and, Reading and Literature take on new relevance in its enhancement of students’ perceptions of the real world.   

Foundations of Carthay's Environmental Studies Curriculum include the Full-Option Science SystemSTAR's Hands-on Garden Science program, and Project Learning Tree. All teachers at Carthay are trained in all of these standards-based and experiential-learning curricula.

STAR Hands-on Garden Science

In 2009 Carthay Center contracted STAR Science to develop a pilot Garden Science curriculum that links California State Science Standards to hands-on, outdoor learning. This parent-funded program is a collaboration between Carthay Teachers, STAR Science Teachers and Master Gardeners. The garden program at Carthay continues to “grow” as its success supporting curriculum has proven to be a real asset. The garden has energized learning on campus. The students love science and have become environmental stewards, healthier eaters, and great observers of the natural world.

Students from every grade level rotate through the STAR Garden Science program. Class time is spent both in the garden, and in Carthay's science lab. Students are in small groups so every student has an opportunity to participate - in addition to the classroom teacher, Garden Science classes are taught by a science instructor and two garden science teachers from STAR Education. Hands-on learning is enjoyable for students, makes scientific concepts "real", and facilitates experimentation rather that rote-learning. 

Read more about Carthay's Garden Science program in this article. 


Carthay lab 2
Carthay lab


The number of weeks spent in Garden Science increases as students progress through the grade levels: 6 weeks for grades K-3, 10 weeks for 4th grade, and 16 weeks for 5th grade.

A new addition to the Garden is an aquaponics system, funded through donations on Donors Choose and a grant from the Mid City West Neighborhood Council. Aquaponics combines hydroponics with aquaculture, and provides a model for urban agriculture as a means to grow healthy and natural foods in an urban environment. The fish provide nutrients for plants in the form of their own excrement. The water in the fish tank is continuously pumped into a grow bed where the plants are located. The roots of plants act as a filtration system to clean the water. The clean water is then sent back into the fish tank. With the aquaponics system in place, students are able to study how fish and plants grow as well as to design and perform experiments to investigate and research a myriad of inquiries.

In 2016, the Aquaponic system was upgraded to run on solar energy!



STAR Garden Science garden and science lab lessons are taught by specialists from STAR Education. All Carthay Teachers are also trained by specialists, so learning in the classroom and in the field is fully integrated. 

Full-Option Science System

All teachers at Carthay are equipped with FOSS kits and trained to use them to help students discover knowledge about the sciences, with particular emphasis on those that relate to the environment. The FOSS kits integrate well with the Environmental Studies focus at Carthay, are aligned with new standards, and can be used outdoors to take advantage of Carthay's Garden.

The FOSS Program bridges research and practice by providing tools and strategies to engage students and teachers in enduring experiences that lead to deep understanding of the natural and designed worlds. 

The best way for students to appreciate the scientific enterprise, learn important scientific and engineering concepts, and develop the ability to think well is to actively in scientific practices through their own investigations and analyses. 

Each FOSS Investigation includes the following pedagogies to provide multiple exposures to science concepts:

  1. Active investigation, including outside experiences
  2. Recording in science notebooks to answer focus questions
  3. Reading in FOSS Science Resources
  4. Assessment to monitor progress and motivate student reflection on learning. 

Project Learning Tree, WET, and WILD

Many Carthay teachers supplement the materials above with lessons from Project Learning Tree, Project WET, and Project WILD. Carthay has budgeted professional development training for all Carthay teachers in at least some of these programs at Carthay. Some teachers also take additional trainings. 

Project Learning Tree (PLT) is an award-winning environmental education program whose goal is to teach students how to think, not what to think about complex environmental issues. Recognized as a leader in environmental education for more than 35 years, PLT enhances critical thinking, problem solving, and effective decision-making skills, teaching students to weigh various sides of an environmental issue to make informed and responsible decisions. As are EEI and STAR Garden Science, PLT materials are multi-disciplinary and aligned with state and national education standards.

Studies show that curricula with outdoor learning components are proven to advance overall student performance, including test scores, particularly in science and math. More than half of all Project Learning Tree activities can be conducted outdoors.

Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots

Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots is the youth-led community action and learning program of the Jane Goodall Institute. The program builds on the legacy and vision of Dr. Jane Goodall to place the power and responsibility for creating community-based solutions to big challenges in the hands of the young people. Through the program, young people map their community to identify specific challenges their neighborhoods face. From there, they prioritize the problems, develop a plan for a solution, and take action all while developing the skills and attitudes to become part of the next generation of Dr. Jane Goodall.

Carthay School of Environmental Studies Magnet

Carthay School of Environmental Studies Magnet is the only magnet elementary school in the LAUSD that combines the sciences and the humanities in an educational program centered on society and the environment.

Environmental Studies is a broad, comprehensive field of study that engages students in real life explorations, including:

  • working in teams,
  • listening to and accepting diverse opinions,
  • solving problems,
  • taking a long-term view of interactions between society and the environment,
  • promoting actions that serve the larger good, and
  • connecting with the community

By providing students with a wide variety of thematically integrated learning experiences our program gives them the skills and abilities they need to be active participants in improving quality of life for themselves and future generations.  It is rooted in rigorous, project-based learning with a commitment to policies that foster sustainable development and social equality.  These projects emphasize discovery, exploration, collaborative study, scientific research, and use of scientific tools and technology. Simultaneously, they guide our students through critical studies of environmentally sensitive literature and the arts while developing their own creative abilities with writing and artistic exercises.

Designed for students of varying abilities and interests, environmental education at Carthay embodies a learning process that increases student’s knowledge and awareness about relationships between the environment and human well-being, while guiding them to become ecologically responsible citizens of the world.