Part of the ECS Family


Green Ambassadors Take the Lead to #FreeTheFood

Photo: During #freethefood Friday at ECMS-Gardena, students harvested vegetables to prepare the garden beds for spring planting.

Environmental Charter Middle School – Gardena (ECMS-G) was excited and honored to receive the City of Los Angeles’ first ever #FreeTheFood Food Waste Grant. The funding support helped ECMS-G Green Ambassadors dive into addressing food waste on campus and become campus compost champions! ECMS-G was one of ten grantees that received funding to “free the food” from local landfills. Read more about the impact of all ten grant projects.

With the help of The Bay Foundation, ECMS-G students installed a large 3-bin composter. By turning organic waste into compost, we will have compost to use on campus and to give to the community.

Photo: We completed building our compost bins at ECMS-Gardena with help from The Bay Foundation!

Check out the story HERE, and see more photos HERE.

Additionally, each classroom, the staff lounge, and the after-school program areas were provided compost collection bins. Students designed, built, and painted signs to teach students how to properly sort our their trash and food waste.

To further students’ knowledge on composting, they participated in a compost class that taught us all about composting. With their knowledge, students were able to teach community members how to compost and even provided families with composting bins to use in their own kitchens!


Green Ambassadors students were campus leaders and helped their peers develop a food waste consciousness. For example, students took the role of being peer mentors to help fellow students properly sort their food waste through the “trash bouncer” program during lunch.

Students also visited Millard Canyon where they hiked and observed composting on the forest floor. This experience allowed them to make connections between what they learned about composting at school and the composting they saw happening in nature.

In the end, the project also helped to create a space on campus for cultivating vegetables, herbs, fruits, and native plants. Together, 240 students and faculty engaged in the program, saved 200 pounds of food scraps from going to the landfill, and prevented .09 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from going into the atmosphere.


Thank you to the City of Los Angeles for the grant and The Bay Foundation for the support in making our new compost bin!

Story By Sara Reyes

ECMS-Gardena’s Campus Gets an Upgrade!

We are making progress thanks to Prop K, a grant we received from the City of Los Angeles to support the improvement, construction, and maintenance of our Gardena campus. Keep an eye out for more improvements!


From LA To Boston: What Green Schools Are Doing Best

Caption: ECS Founder and Executive Director, Alison Diaz, meets with educators to share about Environmental Charter Schools’ best practices.

Originally posted on Teaching Our Cities Blog

By Alison Diaz and Sammy Lyon

We walked into what we thought would be a crisp fall day in Boston, but instead was a sweltering humid 80+ degrees at the end of September. We were coming all the way from Los Angeles to meet up with educators and students from up and down the East Coast, all of us sweating together in the beautiful library of Boston Green Academy for a day of sharing, learning and inspiration.

A year and a half ago Joel Tolman from Common Ground High School asked us if we wanted to be advisors to an ambitious new project. With initial funding by the EPA, Teaching Our Cities planned to bring five schools together over the course of a year to share in a community of practice around environmentally-themed, interdisciplinary urban education.

We’ve been to many conferences, workshops and summits, but we’ve never been to anything like this. We gathered with educators, principals and students from five schools — New Roots Charter School, The Greene School, Boston Green Academy, Connecticut River Academy and Common Ground High School — who have committed to a year of improving their practice in a range of areas, from interdisciplinary units to student portfolios to building a staff culture of sustainability.

Each school had applied to be a part of this cohort by presenting a “problem of practice” — not just one lesson or unit they wanted to work on, but a schoolwide approach. We were excited to find we had peers who were deeply engaged in developing real-world learning for students, not only in one or two classrooms but as a schoolwide commitment to engaging students in the rich resources of our communities. At the convening, we saw examples of interdisciplinary learning with authentic assessments — creating units around an essential question culminating in a demonstration of student learning. Simply put, this kind of innovative, real-world learning is not something many schools attempt to do…and here were five schools doing it! Together they were struggling through the hard issues, tackling the challenges and working to improve instruction for all students. For almost two decades, we felt alone in our work of creating communities of practice within our schools. At Teaching Our Cities, we found out we are definitely not alone.

After many years of developing similar learning opportunities that prepare students for college and community stewardship, our team at Environmental Charter Schools (ECS) in Los Angeles set out to codify those practices into a best practices framework — a teacher designed rubric to guide our work. These five Best Practices have evolved into a comprehensive Teacher Development & Evaluation rubric that we use across all 3 of our schools, but it didn’t happen overnight. We had the opportunity to share these Best Practices with educators at Teaching Our Cities in Boston.

Here’s how the ECS Best Practices evolved over time:

Founded in 2000, ECS was based upon the California Partnership Academy’s four Best Practices: Small Learning Communities, Rigorous Interdisciplinary College-Prep Curriculum, Partnerships, and Using a Career Theme (ours being using the Environment as the integrating context).

The Early Years: Student Focused (2000 – 2010)

Starting out, we created several structures in which our best practices could thrive. We created space in our instructional calendar for a team of teachers to have the same students, which allowed all students to engage in an interdisciplinary unit. We aligned our program with our goal that all students have access to college. To bring this to fruition, we adopted a College-Prep course that was scoped and sequenced for grades 6-12. Two other program pieces were added to bookend a student’s experience:

Green Ambassadors: a required class in which students learn to take action to solve an environmental challenge, and
Senior Thesis: a graduation requirement and the last course in the college prep course sequence, in which students research a social or environmental injustice and then take action to solve it!

A Focus on Instruction (2010 – 2014)

As we created a first draft of our teacher development and evaluation rubric, we realized we were missing a best practice. Our best practices talked to curriculum but not instruction. So we added a practice and four became five best practices:

1. Small Learning Communities
2. Interdisciplinary Curriculum & Authentic Assessment
3. Relevant & Engaging Instruction
4. Environmental & Experiential Learning
5. Collaboration With Partners


Establishing Common Ground (2014 – Present)

After expanding from one to three schools, it became clear we needed our whole organization to get on the same page. We underwent a strategic planning process and laid the groundwork for the next 3 years, with one of our main focuses being: “Becoming Masters of our Own Best Practices.”

Part of becoming masters of our own best practices meant that we needed to establish a clear understanding of what it looks like to be an ECS instructor, and how to evaluate teachers on their implementation of our best practices. We wanted our teachers and leaders to be on the same page about what good instruction looks like, while documenting what we were doing so that new and existing teachers could improve.

Revising our Rubric

The first step was to create a rubric. A team of ECS teacher leaders and administrators worked to develop our very own Teacher Development and Evaluation (TDE) rubric using the Danielson and Marzano frameworks for guidance. In addition to the rubric, we also set the intention to provide examples of what the practice looked like in the classroom at each level. So in addition to implementing the rubric, we set up the following:

– Assigned an instructional coach to every teacher to offer help and catch the best practices in action at ECS!
– Implemented a Rater Training Program to ensure valid and reliable scoring across classrooms.
– Adopted Teachboost to provide immediate feedback to teachers and allow us to easily analyze scores, identify areas of strength and supports needed.


See the ECS Best Practices rubric overview.

Building Reliability and Confidence in the System

With this new system, our biggest concern was whether teachers would accept and put their faith in this more formalized system. We put a lot of time into defining what a level 1 vs level 4 performance was and surveyed our teachers throughout the entire process. After 3 years, 80% of teachers feel that our teacher evaluation system and rubric is valid and reliable, and want to grow and develop into Level 4 teachers.

Show, Don’t Tell

At ECS, we remain committed to continual improvement, including that of our TDE rubric. After implementation and adoption we recognized the need to provide concrete examples of what each best practice would look like in practice. Our goal was, and still is, to be able to answer the questions “What does this look like in a classroom? Why do we have this best practice?” and “What do students get out of it that makes it worth it?”

In 2017 we implemented a Documentation Project that will create a teacher-led case study that exemplifies each best practice, starting with Environmental & Experiential Learning, after which we will tackle the other four Best Practices.

Teaching Our Cities Takeaways

We came away from our experience at Teaching Our Cities inspired by fellow educators and grateful to share where we stand after 17 years of work. In those years we have learned that we must be deliberate at every step of the way as we create learning opportunities that use the environment to engage students and connect them to the wider world. Has it been worth it? Absolutely. Perhaps the best part was knowing that there are so many other committed colleagues doing the messy and hard work from coast to coast and we look forward to sharing together far into the future.

Food Waste Warriors Build Compost Bins

Caption: Staff and Students are all smiles after finishing the compost bin build.

ECMS-Gardena students partnered with the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation to build new compost bins at ECMS-Gardena! These compost bins will allow the school to reduce food waste by turning organic waste into compost to then use on our campus and to give to the community! Thank you to the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation for helping ECS expand our Table to Farm composting efforts.

Caption: Santa Monica Bay Restoration staff teaching our students how to use power tools.
Caption: ECMS student using his newly acquired skills to contribute to the building of the compost bins.

More Photos


College Readiness students at ECMS-Gardena participated in a nationwide activist art competition aimed to promote modern heroes in the fight against climate change. #MyClimateHero is an interactive comic art series and exhibition depicting heroes of the modern climate security and environmental justice movements. The series explores the evolution of climate leadership, current challenges, and opportunities for individuals and communities to take action in 2018 and beyond. Students learned about climate change heroes and created activist art to spread the work.

The climate change activists that ECMS-G students depicted were Angel Hsu, Jane Kleeb, Anthony Karefa Rogers Wright, Patricia Espinosa, and Neil Degrasse Tyson.

Out of 80 finalists, artwork from nine ECMS-Gardena students was selected to be shown in an Amplifier Art exhibit in Seattle, Washington. The artwork will also be used to teach students about climate change in schools across the nation.

Selected ECMS-Gardena student artists are Diana Vasquez, Ivy Ma, Jennifer Ron-Parra, Jessica Soto, Libby Kelley, Mariana Escobedo, Marilyn Zamora, Lelani Montano, Iliana Salcedo. We are so proud! Check out the featured work of our students below!




We are Looking for an Extraordinary Leader!

Environmental Charter Schools is searching for an outstanding, experienced leader for our middle school in Gardena. The school was founded in 2010 and currently serves 360 students in grades 6-8. Our program is interdisciplinary, environmental, social-justice driven and focused on Best Practices that our organization has developed over the past 18 years.

Principal – ECMS-Gardena

Environmental Charter Schools is seeking an experienced, visionary, talented, dynamic leader with a proven record of success in urban settings and school transformation. The candidate should be experienced with resetting culture and expectations and instilling a collaborative and positive professional culture.
The Principal will enjoy a significant degree of autonomy and flexibility to lead our school, educators, and students. We offer a competitive salary and a comprehensive benefits package. The Principal reports directly to the Executive Director and collaborates with the ECS leadership team to ensure the following:
Leadership, Vision & Strategy
Works to set strategic direction of the school, relying on mission-related and data-driven decisions that ensure student success and helps to close the achievement gap for low-income students of color.
Responsible for a positive, results-oriented culture that maintains equity across students and staff.
Management & Operations
Ensures a school that runs smoothly and efficiently, overseeing day-to-day operations, staff, facilities and programs.
Academic Rigor
Collaborates with teaching staff and Instructional Leadership team to set data-driven goals in the context of student achievement. Monitors, motivates and leads teachers to improved instructional practices through observations, growth plans, and weekly Professional Development and staff meetings.
Community & Outreach
Collaborates and meets with stakeholders, communicates about school programs and supports the development of partnerships to best support and enhance ECS goals.
See Full Description

Environmental Charter Schools Statement on the #Enough National School Walkout

Dear ECS Community,

We are all devastated, shocked and frustrated by the tragedy in Parkland, Florida. There are no words that can completely allay any fears we may have about coming to school. Each of our schools, however, cares about our community’s safety. Here is what we have in place to encourage and support safety at each of our sites:

Emergency Plans: All schools have an Emergency Plans in place that includes response plans in the event of an active shooter. All staff have been trained on the response plan in the event we have to lock down the campus. Emergency drills are practiced throughout the year. An Active Shooter Training is being scheduled for each of our school sites.

Emergency Response Teams: each school has a team of staff trained to respond to various types of emergencies

Counselors: We have trained professional(s) at each site who provide services to students and families

Police Partnerships: School Administration have established close partnerships with local law enforcement.

School Entrances: all doors lock after students enter in the morning; access is by pin code or office “buzz-in” only.

Emergency Plan: kept in each classroom and office containing plans for handling many types of emergencies, including lock-downs procedures.

We are constantly updating and discussing our emergency plans. We also hold safety drills and trainings at each of our campuses for all staff and students throughout the year. We encourage you to reach out to us and let us know what steps we could take to be more effective at protecting our students.

It has also come to our attention that some students may be participating in a national walk out in the wake of the Florida shooting to spur stricter gun laws. At ECS while we value self-expression and political participation, we neither condone nor condemn students’ right to exercise that self-expression by walking out. Although, when students leave campus, school site administrators do not have a legal obligation to protect the safety and welfare of the students. We will attempt to support our students before, during, and after the walkout; we want to assist in creating a space for our students to be heard.

We ask for your continued support as we foster safe and positive learning environments for ECS students and families.

If you have any other further safety concerns, please call or email me to discuss further.

Yours Truly,

Alison Diaz
Executive Director and Founder
Environmental Charter Schools

Environmental Charter Middle School Receives Funding from The Riordan Foundation

Environmental Charter Schools is proud to receive funding from The Riordan Foundation to support the integration of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into the interdisciplinary, project-based curriculum at Environmental Charter Middle Schools by building teacher capacity.

Through the Instructional Innovation Grant Initiative, Environmental Charter Middle School-Gardena will enhance its ongoing work to integrate STEM (with an emphasis on science) into classroom learning and build teachers’ capacity to teach NGSS. At Environmental Charter Middle School-Inglewood, the awarded initial Instructional Innovation grant will support the professional development of teachers, guide the integration of NGSS into curricular units and develop interim assessments to gauge student understanding.

Environmental Charter Schools focuses on college preparation and environmental and community engagement through interdisciplinary instruction, small learning communities and community partnerships. These best practices inform every element of the ECS experience. The Instructional Innovation Grant is a program that provides up to 50-75% of the funding for one year of a project related to improving instruction. Funding through this program is available for consultants, professional development, technology, or almost any other item relating to instructional innovation.

“We are proud to continue our relationship with The Riordan Foundation’s grantee network,” says Founder & Executive Director Alison Diaz. “This funding support will enable us to further prepare our teachers in NGSS which is ideally suited to our project-based, interdisciplinary instruction and assessment. This allows students to interact with content and skills in a deep and meaningful way, leading to greater motivation and effort, and thus, greater student achievement.”

About the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Based on the Framework for K–12 Science Education and developed by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the new NGSS were created in a collaborative state-led process. The standards arrange content in a coherent manner across grades and provide all students access to challenging science experiences. Each NGSS standard has three components: disciplinary core ideas, scientific/engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts, all of which integrate math and writing and require special attention to language learning needs. The interdisciplinary integration of rigorous content and application reflects how science is practiced in the real world. These standards will reinvigorate science teaching and introduce our diverse student body to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) practices and principles.

You can learn more about The Riordan Foundation at We encourage you to follow @RiordanFDN on Twitter or like TRF’s page on Facebook

Environmental Charter Schools Statement on the Repeal of DACA

Dear ECS Students, Families and Community,

We at Environmental Charter Schools understand the concern and fear felt by our families and communities regarding the Trump administration’s recent decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Environmental Charter Schools is deeply disappointed in this action, which places hundreds of thousands of immigrant students benefiting from our public education system in jeopardy. Many DACA recipients are attending, have graduated from, or are employed in California charter schools like ours.

Environmental Charter Schools reaffirms our commitment to providing all school-aged students access to an excellent education and the opportunities that education provides without regard to their immigration status or the immigration status of their parents. We believe that public education is a fundamental right that all young people are entitled to in our state and in our country, and any discontinuation of the DACA program puts at risk that fundamental right.

We are providing information to our students, families and individuals who are seeking immediate support. The following resources may be helpful to families facing immigration issues and anyone seeking additional information. If you are unable to access these sites, please come to our school offices and ask for assistance with these websites.

How To Protect You and Your Family as DACA Ends

United We Dream has launched a new site focused on DACA at We Are Here To Stay Link:

What Do I Need to Know About the End of DACA (ILRC Community Advisor)

Undocumented Students and Families: The Facts, a guidance sheet to give you answers to key legal questions related to undocumented students (ACSA)

If DACA ends here is what recipients should know about their rights

National Immigration Law Center

The Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

What to Know and Next Steps after September 5, 2017


1. Your DACA and work authorization will remain valid until their expiration date. If you currently have DACA, it will remain in effect until the expiration date listed on your work permit (employment authorization document) and your DACA approval notice. If your work permit is lost or stolen before it expires, you will be able to get a replacement. In California, your employer does not have the right to ask you to produce proof of work authorization before the expiration date on your work permit that you provided when you last submitted proof of work authorization.

2. No new DACA applications will be accepted. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will only accept first-time DACA applications if they were filed on or before September 5, 2017. All initial DACA applications that are submitted after September 5, 2017 will be rejected.

3. DACA approvals and work permits that expire between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 must be accepted for renewal by October 5, 2017. If you have a grant of DACA and a work permit that will expire between now and March 5, 2018, you must apply for a two-year renewal of your DACA by October 5, 2017. Unfortunately, people whose DACA expired before September 5, 2017, and did not submit a renewal application, will no longer be eligible for renewal. If you are eligible to renew under the above guidelines, you should do so immediately. Renewal applications must be accepted by USCIS, not just postmarked, by October 5, 2017 to ensure that your application is processed.

4. Advance Parole to travel abroad is no longer available for DACA recipients. As of September 5, 2017, DACA recipients will no longer be eligible to travel abroad through Advance Parole. Any pending applications for advance parole will not be processed and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will refund any associated fees.

5. Your Social Security Number is still valid. The Social Security Number (SSN) that you received through your DACA is valid for life, even once your work permit and grant of DACA expire. You can and should continue to use the SSN that you got under DACA as your SSN even after your work permit expires. You can use your SSN for education, banking, housing and other purposes. Your SSN contains a condition on it that requires a valid work permit to use if for employment purposes.

6. If possible, renew driver’s licenses and other identification cards while your DACA is valid. Eligibility and requirements for a driver’s license depend on the state in which you live. If you have not already done so, you can still apply for a driver’s license or state identification card if your DACA is valid and your DACA makes you eligible for a driver’s license or state-issued identification card in your state.

7. Know your rights and learn about your other immigration options. Talk to an immigration services provider to learn whether you might be eligible for another immigration benefit, and to know your rights in case you are ever stopped or questioned by ICE.
You can find a national directory to immigration nonprofits here:
You can find a Know Your Rights guide for immigrants here:

Environmental Charter Schools remains committed to protecting the educational rights of our students and honoring our community with mutual respect, dignity, trust and fairness, regardless of immigration status, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, disability or sexual orientation. We continue to offer equity and access to an excellent education to ALL students.

In solidarity,
Alison Diaz
Founder & Executive Director
Environmental Charter Schools

DACA is a program established by President Barack Obama in 2012 that grants a form of temporary protection from deportation known as “deferred action” to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16, have resided here since 2007 and meet other requirements. The Trump administration’s announcement leaves Congress with a six-month window to possibly save the policy.