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Cover photo: Greenhouse at Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School designed and built by Perkins Eastman. Copyright Sarah Mechling/Courtesy Perkins Eastman
EcoRise teacher headshot of Laura Gallant, Environmental Science Teacher, Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School

Laura Gallant, Environmental Science Teacher, Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School

Laura Gallant’s interest in joining the EcoRise Green Building Academy (GBA) came from the desire to bring her students more exposure to real work experiences and diverse career paths. Laura teaches Environmental Sciences at Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School in Massachusetts; and since 2019, through the support of the GBA, she has been able to implement more sustainability education into her courses and fold an industry-recognized credential into her 12th-grade hazmat course.

The Green Building Academy, also known as GBA, is a wrap-around service program for educators who use EcoRise’s curriculum, Green Building Lessons for a Sustainable Future. The GBA offers a robust curriculum, student internships, and a professional learning community where teachers participate in workshops and leadership development with the EcoRise team and green professional mentors.

Laura earned a Master’s in Ecology and began her career serving in the NOAA Corps, commanding research vessels. She came back to land, earned her Master’s in teaching,  and planned to teach high school biology until she learned about Career and Technology Education (CTE) programs. “I think that looking at biology environmentally is more interesting and holistic,” said Laura. “Students are more invested in that because it affects their everyday life.”

EcoRise partner and volunteer Leah Schroeder, Architect, Perkins Eastman

Leah Schroeder, Architectural Designer, Perkins Eastman

During the 2020–2021 school year, Laura participated in the GBA Professional Learning Community and was paired with mentor and green professional Leah Schroeder, a sustainability-focused architectural designer at Perkins Eastman. Their connection was sealed when the pair discovered that the architecture firm Leah works for actually designed and built Laura’s school building. In November, Leah virtually joined Laura’s class to introduce them to biophilic design—which is designing in a way that mimics or works in harmony with nature. The students loved learning about indoor air quality, daylighting, and water-saving strategies and got excited about bringing the outdoors inside through design. Laura’s students had a mindset shift as they learned that their environmental science knowledge could connect to the built environment.

The Professional Learning Community fostered in the GBA creates connections between EcoRise staff, green industry professionals, and teachers and is one of the highlights of the program for teachers and green professionals alike. Laura said, “I’ve enjoyed the training events and have met such a kind and supportive group of people.” And while Leah is considered Laura’s mentor, the truth is they are both learning from one another. “It’s a really great community that EcoRise has built. I love learning what teachers are doing across the country. I feel like as much as I give to the program, I get back,” Leah said.

As EcoRise shifted to virtual meetings in response to the Covid pandemic, expanded community-building opportunities arose for the teachers and green professionals participating in the GBA. Before the Professional Learning Community meetings went virtual, meetings were in-person and local people would connect. With this shift, professionals like Leah had fewer time and travel constraints. This meant that Leah was able to meet more teachers in farther communities and interact with more students to encourage them to enter green professions.

Green Building Academy Virtual Professional Learning Community

Green Building Academy’s Virtual Professional Learning Community, October 2020

Since 2019, Leah’s participation in the GBA has led to multiple classrooms having real-world experiences and connecting with industry professionals. She asks teachers what would benefit their students and brings other professionals in as needed, enjoying the added bonus of pushing herself to network with peers in her industry. “I love the curriculum and I always feel fulfilled after meeting with students and teachers,” said Leah. “There are so many ways to include sustainability in what you do. It gives me hope for how the industry can have a positive impact and how young people can take action.”

The GBA is helping Laura expand her network, too. She has built bridges to local industry, connected with other teachers, and used education materials that the professionals use since joining the program. She has been able to teach less theory and provide more hands-on and project-based experiences. This has benefited her students whether they were bound for college or were planning to go into a trade after high school. Laura commented, “Whether or not my students go into an environmental field, I’ve found that the project-based learning and scientific analysis makes them feel 1–2 years ahead of their peers.”

The Green Building Academy is driven by rich relationships between teachers and green professionals. At EcoRise, we believe everyone has a right to green and healthy learning environments, and the GBA is a pathway for long-term student engagement with green building, environmental justice, and career exploration. High school educators and green professionals are invited to join and contribute to the Green Building Academy on a rolling basis. If you are a teacher, you can learn more about the program here. If you are a green professional interested in getting involved, please contact us here.