The third part of the plan focuses on sustainability education for the 2,000 children that are served daily by YMCA employees across 50 childcare sites. The YMCA offers full and part time daycare for infants and toddlers, after school childcare, kindergarten childcare, as well as holiday and vacation camps. Because the YMCA reaches such a broad base of capital region children from all socio-economic backgrounds, this is an essential place to implement simple, but long-lasting sustainability lessons.
Sustainability education fits in very closely with the other aspects of our strategic plan and highlights the YMCA’s mission to build strong kids, strong families, and strong communities through programs that build healthy mind, body, and spirit – a mission statement that the YMCA is working to bring back to the forefront of their organization. Studies are beginning to emerge that show the importance of sustainability education to children. It is in the early childhood period that children begin to develop their basic values, attitudes, skills, and habits which they carry with them throughout their lives. This is a perfect opportunity to develop these behaviors in a way that supports sustainable development. It is important that while the lessons have overarching themes, they also have local relevance that children can directly relate to, as this will give the lessons real meaning and impact. The YMCA provides an ideal setting for this, as the lessons can be shaped to properly support each location. A useful framework for shaping sustainable education center around the integration of three key themes: a foundation of ecological ethics (respect, compassion, sustainability), the overarching focus of climate change / global warming and renewable energy, and a backdrop of environmental and ecosystem health. These themes build on one another to create a basic knowledge of sustainability that stays with children when they go home and as they grow older.
The initial target for this education should be the after-school programs offered at the YMCA branches. While the staff will have had exposure to the role of sustainability at the YMCA during orientation, we feel that a partnership may be beneficial in providing basic sustainability lessons to both the staff and the children. There is no specific curriculum in an after-school program, as it basically serves as a place for the students to work on homework with the guidance of the staff. We would encourage the YMCA to explore a relationship with the University at Albany Go Green program, specifically with the direction of environmental sustainability. There is a program that will begin in the fall of 2011 in which 60 students at the University at Albany will be part of a living and learning sustainability program on campus. Through coordination between the YMCA and the University at Albany, a program can be created in which these college students can volunteer monthly at all of the branches, providing simple sustainability lessons to the children of the after-school programs. The YMCA should concentrate initially on green tips, such as recycling programs and simple energy saving measures that the children can translate to their home life. The SUNY students can also do relevant arts & crafts projects to make these lessons fun and easy to understand. There can be relevant tie-in to homework as well by using topics like math and science to reinforce sustainability. For example, in a school in Florida, four students with strengths in math measured the amount of paper collected in recycling bins and converted these measurements to number of trees saved. The students then hung a huge bar graph of trees saved at the entrance of school.
There are also opportunities for community impact and fundraising, as well as whole-family programs offered in the evening that could help increase the YMCA’s impact on the community as a whole. The YMCA in conjunction with SUNY Albany could implement Go Green Nights to help bring the message of sustainability to the parents of the children, as well as all of the members of the branch. This would be a beneficial relationship to both the YMCA and SUNY Albany to provide the message to the community that both organizations are working together to bring sustainability to the Capital Region.
After one year of the program, it would be important to update the executive team and board on the status of the initiative and how it has helped to highlight sustainability at the YMCA to the children it serves, as well as their families, the members of the YMCA, and the community as a whole. This would help to achieve board buy-in to education initiatives and allow for the possible expansion of sustainability education to other segments of children within the YMCA. For example, the same themes and lessons indirectly taught during daycare can be applied to camp programs as well; there’s an Earth Day, why not make an Earth Week?