This Summer I Found Community and Professional Development at EcoRise’s First Annual Summer Institute


EcoRise partners with visionary companies and organizations that are passionate about changing the world by bringing sustainability, leadership, and innovation into our children’s classrooms. Southwest Airlines wants to do its part to protect their communities and make the world a better place for future generations by respecting and valuing our resources. EcoRise and Southwest partner to create a positive environmental impact in the Communities we serve. Through our partnership, this summer Southwest was able to provide transportation to EcoRise members to attend EcoRise’s first Summer Institute. Attendee and EcoRise Teacher Ambassador Jamille Fields shared his story with us.

For months, I was looking forward to EcoRise’s first Summer Institute for Teacher Ambassadors and District Partners in Austin, Texas. Initially, I thought the institute would be a productive gathering of National Ambassadors who would work to become like-minded in EcoRise’s mission. I thought we were going to create change in our individual communities upon leaving the institute. What happened during that time, however, was so much greater.

On Sunday, July 29th, 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 was always captivated by EcoRise’s model, which is to teach students using standards aligned, project-based environmental curriculum, connect S.T.E.M professionals to positive mentorship, and impact campuses with micro-grants which 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 along with 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 one highlight from their summer. While the highlights of this diverse group varied widely, one thing was clear: this was a group who 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.

EcoRise Teacher Ambassadors are Systems Change AgentsDuring the first day of the institute, participants, both seasoned educators and early career teachers like myself, were briefed on EcoRise’s history, Sustainable Intelligence Curriculum, and Student Innovation Grants alongside Austin ISD teachers at St. Edwards University. On day two, we received a snapshot of the vision of EcoRise, engaged in a workshop on Leadership led by Stott, 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 bond we all formed at the institute that made it most valuable to each of us.

Without the support of Southwest Airlines, it would not have been possible for such a like-minded group of teachers to close the geographical gap and meet in person to discuss ways to move forward back on our home campuses in the new school year. Due to my training, it is my goal to take advantage of all the organization’s available curriculum starting in the Fall Semester 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.

EcoRise Summer Institute Building Community with Southwest Airlines