The Center for Ecoliteracy (CEL) is a public foundation dedicated to fostering a profound understanding of the natural world grounded in direct experience that leads to sustainable patterns of living.
The Center was founded in 1995 to implement a vision of ecological literacy as described by the Elmwood Institute, an international environmental think tank that preceded the Center. CEL's grantmaking strategies focus on K-12 educational communities in the Bay Area engaged in food and water projects based on the particular geography of the school campus and surrounding landscapes. Since its founding, the Center has awarded over $2.5 million in support of education for sustainable communities.
CEL recognizes food systems and watersheds as essential systems that provide meaningful contexts for achieving ecological understanding. Working with schools, CEL funds projects that allow children to explore their local watershed or food system and examine the relationship between human communities and the habitats in which they live, thus instilling a respect for the way nature sustains life and a connection to the local community. Current programs include:
Food Systems Project: The Center's Food Systems Project (FSP) has been designated as one of four pilot projects of the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the secretary's initiative, "Linking Farms to Schools." The project works to improve the health of children and families in the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) by supporting school gardens, developing a district-wide food systems-based curriculum, and tackling food-related public policy issues. Using a whole systems approach, FSP links family farms to schools and improves food access and nutritional health for the community and the families whose lives are connected, through their children, to the school district.
STRAW: Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed: The STRAW Project, a joint collaboration of the Bay Institute and CEL, coordinates and sustains a network of teachers, students, and community members as they plan and implement riparian habitat restoration projects in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the main purposes of STRAW is to educate students about the surrounding watershed while rehabilitating degraded land. Students remove invasive, non-native plants and revegetate streams and creek banks in urban and rural areas. The ultimate goal of STRAW is to help students make connections to their communities and to gain an appreciation for the diversity and interconnectedness of life. Classroom visits by biologists, restoration consultants, agency staff, and ranchers provide curriculum that helps students to understand their relationship to natural systems and gives them a sense of place, grounding them in their own environment.
School Network: CEL's School Network is vital to the organization's overall strategy of deepening ecological learning within classrooms and schools. Each school within the network is fully committed to the principles of ecological literacy and acts as a resource for teachers who are in the early stages of developing ecologically centered curriculum schoolwide. Network schools provide expertise to other educators by hosting workshops on successful projects and practices, demonstrating the use of materials, and displaying student work. Principals act as leaders by describing their experiences in adopting a whole-school approach to teaching ecological principles. Network schools serve as active participants in their communities and encourage community input, advice, and volunteerism. The network also provides a venue for schools to learn from one another and provides the time and intellectual content for incorporating changing roles and practice.
In 2000, the Food Systems Project helped raise nearly $1.5 million in grant money to implement an innovative strategy designed to improve the nutrition and health of Berkeley students. The Berkeley Unified School District received a $1 million grant from the California Nutrition Network division of the California Department of Health to increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and promote physical activity through garden-based nutrition education, links with local agriculture, and associated food and nutrition curriculum in the classroom. In addition, a $300,000 grant from the California Endowment was awarded to develop a business plan for the BUSD school meal program. The BUSD child nutrition services also received a $50,000 grant from the Nutrition Services Division of the California Department of Education, facilitated by FSP, to support a district-wide nutrition education training program.
The STRAW Project has been successful in expanding its restoration as well as educational efforts. During the 2000-01 academic year, STRAW will replace invasive, non-native vegetation with native plants at 15 urban sites and 15 rural sites. The project also has developed a bird education and monitoring curriculum specific to the region and has implemented environmental education approaches that integrate science and the arts. Work continues on a teacher-training model based on an ecological conceptual framework and a process that incorporates core ecological principles. Whereas STRAW had previously worked only with schools located in the North Bay of the San Francisco Bay Region, a new collaboration will expand its reach to include school communities throughout the Bay Area.
The CEL Web site provides detailed information about the organization's programs, philosophies, and grantmaking guidelines. The Web site also offers informational materials about ecological literacy, essays and speeches by two of its board members, Fritjof Capra and David W. Orr, and highlights of work done by CEL grantees.
Other features of the site include online ordering of publications, audio/visual stories about CEL projects provided by Science Interchange, and, coming soon, curriculum ideas related to gardens, health, and nutrition.
Although CEL is a public foundation that makes funds available to grantees and its own projects, the organization also cultivates partnerships with other funders and seeks increased outside funding as its programs become more diverse and widespread.