Community Voices - Joy Harrison

Optimized-Joy HarrisonJoy Harrison has been a Prospect Elementary teacher for three years. She lives in Oberlin, and feels that it is a place where real change can happen--that if you can make something work in Oberlin, you can make it work somewhere else.

How long have you been working at Prospect?

This is my third year.

Do you live in Oberlin? If so how long?

Yes, I live in Oberlin, and have for three years.

What brought you to Oberlin?

My husband, my husband’s work.

When you think of Oberlin do you think of it as a sustainable place?

I think that it is a community that appreciates sustainability and honors sustainability. Discusses sustainability. Has organizations that are working towards sustainability. So I think sustainability is actively a part of the community conversation.

Do you think there is more to be done?

Well there’s always more to be done. There’s always more. But there is a lot. There’s the solar panels. There’s the food movement; local foods. So there’s a lot going on here. There’s Ecolympics, which is happening now. There’s the dashboard happening year round.

Do you think the dashboard plays an important role in prospect?

I think it will. I think it’s like you plant a seed, you water it and it grows. And so I think students are used to having the dashboard here. They are starting to see it as a part of the school. So they are starting to check in with it. Especially with Ecolympics. Ecolympics does a lot for bringing attention to the dashboard. The kids are always curious, so they’re checking to see where Prospect is in relation to the other schools and how much we’re saving.

How do they check the dashboard? Are there monitors in places throughout the school?

Yeah, we have monitors in the downstairs hallway. When people walk by they always look and comment how we are doing during Ecolympics.

What do you think of when you think of sustainability?

I think, can something go on for generations. Are our circles feeding back into each other in a way that it can last? Or is it a one-way ticket? Energy is going in and getting absorbed and there’s a finite amount of it. So I think of sustainability like an ecosystem. But I don’t think it just applies to the environment. Is your job sustainable? Does the community have sustainable practices? Is development sustainable. It crosses all the boundaries.

What do you think it is that Prospect does with the students to get them to think about the sustainability, and the environment in general?

As an IB school, one of our units of inquiry, one of our transdisciplinary themes is sharing the planet, and the key to all of the units across grade levels that have to do with sharing the planet is sustainability. And then there are other transdisciplinary themes that lend themselves to sustainability, like how we organize ourselves and other themes. And then of course Creative Change came through and they helped us. A lot of the lessons they have developed through The Creative Change organization fit nicely into planners at different grade levels. We use them for our ecosystems unit and sharing the planet. And that’s complimentary with the dashboard because you can look at the dashboard and check in on energy use, and look at energy use or water use and in discussions of sustainability that matters.

What do you think Oberlin or the school, or both could do to improve either the way they teach sustainability, or just in general how can we become more sustainable and environmentally friendly?

It has so many different answers depending on how you angle it. I think one thing that is going to help us become more sustainable is for our curriculum and our standards to settle by the state levels, so we actually know what our learning targets will be. And inside that, that’s when we can start incorporating all these different threads that run through sustainability. We can start talking more about using the dashboard as a tool, and using Creative Change as a tool. But the college has been great about students from the environmental studies department coming over and doing projects. We have that garden outside, and Shane, who I think has now moved on. But we’ve had different members of the college come. Young members come and help us in different ways.

What do you do regarding sustainability outside of school?

I like that we have the bike path running through, and now that the summer is here I would like to ride more, and take my daughter around. The farmers market is wonderful apart of the community once everything starts warming up. We’re all coming out of our winter cocoon.

One thing that I love about Oberlin is that feels like a microcosm of the macrocosm. There’s a lot of diversity here, yet it’s very small. There’s economic diversity, cultural diversity, and yet it’s so small. It feels like a place where a lot of experiments could happen. There’s something hopeful about that. That if you could make something work in Oberlin, it’s something you could export elsewhere.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It’s a wonderful community. It has problems like every community does. But the problems feel solvable because of the scale. I love the school system here, and I love the International baccalaureate. I think it’s perfect when you talk about sustainability, it’s a perfect fit, because IB is an international thinking structure, so if you want to make the world work, it has to be sustainable.

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