Nonprofit Group Works with CalRecycle to Promote Environmental Literacy


CalRecycle’s Education and the Environment Initiative offers California K-12 teachers a free science and history-social science curriculum that uses the environment as a context for learning. Teachers throughout the state have incorporated the EEI curriculum into their classrooms and harvested content to enrich their science classes and field trips. Behind the scenes, this work is supported by a long-running partnership with Ten Strands, a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental literacy statewide.


Over the past two years, Ten Strands worked with CalRecycle and the State Education and Environment Roundtable (SEER) to have the State Board of Education require textbook publishers to integrate a set of Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) into future science and history-social science textbooks.  This will ensure that all students will explore how humans rely on and influence the natural world as part of their K-12 education. 

Ten Strands is also involved in a project with the California Department of Education to implement Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s Blueprint for Environmental Literacy. Will Parish, the founder and president of Ten Strands, is the co-chair of a 30-person steering committee charged with this work, and Karen Cowe, Ten Strands’ CEO, is the project director. The blueprint will enable California to fully integrate the Environmental Principles and Concepts into K-12 instruction. 


The Blueprint offers a plan to implement the EP&Cs and other environmental literacy strategies throughout the state, and Ten Strands is committed to seeing this plan implemented. Funded by a $3.1 million grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and ongoing support from the Pisces Foundation and the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the steering committee is working to strengthen existing education initiatives as well as build relationships between schools and science-based organizations. 

Teacher training becomes an important step in seeing the EP&Cs taught in classrooms. Some teachers, especially those new to education, may feel daunted by teaching environmental literacy, including more science, so Ten Strands is working to gather together teachers, training providers, and non-formal science organizations like museums, aquariums, and university research centers. 


“There are 6.2 million kids in California public schools, who attend 10,000 schools in about 1,000 districts,” Ten Strands CEO Karen Cowe said. “We have identified school districts as the unit of change in the system because of the way schools are funded and because of the state government’s focus on local control.”

“In the short term, we are working with schools in different areas to model the ideas we want to see statewide,” Cowe said. 

One group is focused on building relationships with school district leaders to better understand what they need and are responsible for in terms of curriculum and teacher training. The group has created a tool to help administrators and educators think through district-wide science curriculum implementation that includes environmental literacy. “When a district is writing their local plans for the next three years, we can help them with a tool kit that supports how to incorporate environmental literacy into their plan in a seamless and integrated way,” Cowe said.


Ten Strands also collaborates with science and education organizations to support teachers and students throughout California. Among their key partnerships are UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of ScienceChangeScale of the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas, TreePeople of Los Angeles, and the California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC).

“We don’t want to only see certain kids in certain places understand the Environmental Principles and Concepts,” Cowe said. “We want to see environmental literacy flourish in every classroom across the state.”

— Christina Files
Posted on Jul 10, 2017

Summary: CalRecycle’s Education and the Environment Initiative offers California K-12 teachers a free science and history-social science curriculum that uses the environment as a context for learning.