and Sustainable Communities Curriculum
Grade Level: 10 -
activities were designed for the YWCA of the U.S. by the Sustainability
Education Center of the American Forum. Printed versions of the entire
module will be available from the YWCA and The American Forum and will
include numerous case studies and activities designed to focus students/participants
on the elements of sustainable community initiatives and on how to apply
them to their own local communities.
The following activities
have been designed to focus students on actual case studies of sustainable
community initiatives. The first activity guides the students in a discussion
about the terms "civil society" and "sustainable community" to understand
how the two terms are related. In the second activity two case studies
(one urban and one rural) are looked at to see how the ideas discussed
in the first activity are applied to real-life situations.
has increasingly focused on the topic of civil society. Many voluntary
initiatives which aim to strengthen society and build communities are
being created across the United States. These initiatives involve holistic
thinking and integrated community actions by citizens. Their agendas all
are determined locally.
The renewal of civil
society often means that a new paradigm is needed which is both global
and local. In many communities today this paradigm has been found in the
idea of sustainabilitv.
In describing a sustainable
community, Steve Viederman, President of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation,
New York, NY says, "a healthy, sustainable community begins with a participatory
process that creates and pursues a vision of community that respects and
makes prudent use of all its assets-natural, human, human-created, social,
cultural, scientific, etc. The goal is to ensure, so far as possible,
that present generations attain a high degree of economic security and
can realize democracy and popular participation in control of their communities,
while maintaining the integrity of the ecological systems upon which all
life and all production depends. In the process, healthy and sustainable
communities will assume responsibility to future generations to provide
them with the wherewith-all for their vision, hoping that they have the
wisdom and intelligence to use what is provided in an appropriate manner."
In order for students
to look at case studies of sustainable community initiatives it is helpful
to focus on the terms being used. This warm-up activity is designed to
start the students thinking about the types of ideas they associate with
"civil society" and "sustainable community." Remember, there are no "correct"
Students will be
- define the terms
"civil society" and "sustainable communities" and
- describe the relationship
between civil society and sustainable community.
This first activity
uses a semantic map as the strategy designed to "tap prior knowledge."
- Draw two circles
on the board/easel paper. In the first circle write the term "Civil
Society." In the second circle write the term "Sustainable Communities."
- Ask the students
to think silently for two minutes, jotting down any ideas or thoughts
that come to mind which could contribute to a definition of each term.
- The activity is
then opened to the group to share their notes and brainstorm with one
another in the large group. The teacher records the ideas on the board/easel
paper. CAUTIONARY NOTE #1: If your group is considerably
larger than twenty, ask them to assemble in their groups of 3 or 4 which
you have pre-assigned to them. Ask each group to assign a recorder,
a time keeper and a spokesperson who is willing and best suited for
presenting the work of the small group. Then ask the students to share
their ideas first in their small groups and record their responses.
They can consolidate similar responses, but consensus is not necessary
at this point. After they have had a chance to share in their small
groups, ask the spokespersons to share the work of their small groups.
- A map or web of
ideas is developed. When all the ideas are recorded the teacher can
solicit the participation of the group in sequencing, prioritizing or
grouping the ideas so that the large group can come to consensus on
their definitions and understanding of the two terms. CAUTIONARY
NOTE #2: As teacher it is very important that this process
moves quickly and is fun tor the students. The point here is not to
develop the "Be All and End All" definitions. If you feel the group
getting bogged down with minutia tell the group that for the purpose
of this activity perfection is not necessary. THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER
- The final step
in this activity is to discuss the relationship between the two terms
"Civil Society" and "Sustainable Communities." This should come fairly
quickly and one main idea that you as teacher can help to illuminate
is that: The members of civil society are the actors and sustainable
communities, the desired condition.
Some students may begin to complain that all this sounds very "utopian,"
but that they are dealing with "real life." If this happens, it will provide
a useful segue to the next activity which involves case studies of "real
life" examples of sustainable community initiatives.
Students will be
able to identity, compare and contrast, and analyze the elements of a
sustainable community initiative.
This activity is
designed to give students "real life" examples of some sustainable community
initiatives around the U.S. The small group work is modeled after a cooperative
learning strategy whereby students interact and depend upon themselves
and one another in order to complete a task.
Two class periods
- One case study
(either urban or rural)
for each participant. (Make sure that the members of each small group
are given the same case study on which to work.)
- large paper and
- one "Criteria
for Analysis" handout per participant
Procedure Day I
- Give the members
of each small group a case study and the questions hand-out.
- Assign a recorder
in each group if one has not already been identified. Give the recorder
in each group a large piece of paper, a marker and some tape. Ask each
recorder to title the page with the name of the community case study
with which they are about to work, to note the type of study (urban
or rural), and to record the answers to the questions on handout on
- Ask each participant
to read the case study you have handed out to them.
- When everyone
has indicated that they are finished reading, ask the members of each
small group to identify a recorder, a time keeper and a spokesperson.
- Ask the small
groups to discuss what they have read and to refer to the set of questions
on the "Criteria for Analysis" handout. Let them know that they should
address all the questions on the handout, but are not limited to them
if time permits them to ask other questions of the case study.
Procedure Day 2
- Ask all students
to review the notes that the recorder has made on the large paper and
to make sure there is agreement that the notes adequately reflect the
previous day's discussion.
- When agreement
has been achieved, ask all the spokespersons to put up their large pieces
of paper around the room and to stand by them.
- When all papers
are posted, ask one spokesperson at a time (call on them according to
contexts--i.e., all rural contexts one after the other--then all urban
contexts) to describe their sustainable community case study verbally.
(Note: If the group is considerably larger than twenty students, just
pick one group from each context to make a presentation. Other groups
can add their comments when it comes time to look at common elements
in terms of strategies and processes that were used by the people in
their case studies-- if the ones used in their case studies have not
been presented in the large group yet.)
- When you know
that all have had a chance to hear/see the work that is up, go to your
board or easel and begin to facilitate a discussion about the similarities
and differences between the case studies in each context and between
contexts that the students can identify. Ask them for any patterns that
they see emerging. Record their comments on the board.
- Categorize the
common elements in terms of strategies, processes and patterns with
the students in the large group so that by the end of the activity the
group has produced a coherent list of common practices between and among
the case studies and their contexts. Example: "The case studies described
inclusive participation by a wide range of citizens and groups"; "In
every case the people realized their concerns and problems were inextricably
linked to the concerns and problems of others--and so were the solutions...";
"many cases involved building consensus among diverse participants and
- Make note too
of any significant differences that seem to emerge as patterns if they
seem to be relevant to the discussion.
- Ask the students
to identify the members of civil society that were represented across
the case study sites. Why were they involved? Ask the question, "Do
any/some/all of these groups exist in your community?" Facilitate a
discussion about the actors in these cases.
- Ask the students,
"who was not there?" Why?
- Ask the question,
"how are these initiatives similar or different to projects and programs
that are being carried out in your community?"
- Then ask the students
to comment on what they think makes these cases examples of sustainable
community initiatives as opposed to other community initiatives with
which they may be familiar or about which they have heard. Record their
comments on another sheet entitled, "Sustainable Community Initiatives."
- The final question
in this activity is, "Can you imagine one of these types of initiatives
being successful in your community?"