EE that empowers over socio-economic barriers | eePRO @ NAAEE

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EE that empowers over socio-economic barriers

Some people believe that environmental education is a luxury solely enjoyed by affluent audiences with a disposable income for purchasing camping gear and bird watching equipment. The Roots of Success curriculum, however, demonstrates that EE can be used as an environmental literacy tool and job readiness program for youth and adults who have been failed by the education system and are faced with socio-economic barriers that restrict their opportunities.

We are so lucky to have as our discussion hosts this week (July 25-August 1) two Roots of Success staff members… Raquel Pinderhughes, Executive Director (residing in San Francisco), and Chad Flores, Deputy Director (residing in Chicago), who can share more details about this innovative program.

Raquel and Chad, thanks so much for sharing your time this week and serving as resource people to our membership! Can you share with us how your environmental education curriculum can help your students overcome poverty and unemployment and improve the conditions in their impoverished communities?

Thank you for your invitation to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion. We greatly look forward to hearing from other members of the NAAEE community.

At no time in human history has it been more important for people to understand and care about environmental issues. Unfortunately, inequalities in our education system ensure that residents living in communities most heavily impacted by environmental problems and injustices have the least access to information about environmental problems and solutions, and are least likely to be employed in environmental fields and policy positions. The Roots of Success Environmental Literacy and Work Readiness Curriculum addresses this gap. The curriculum is used in high schools, job training programs, community organizations, prisons, jails, juvenile facilities, libraries, and government agencies throughout the United States, as well as in the UK and South Africa. Roots of Success demonstrates that EE can be effectively delivered to youth and adults who have been failed by the education system, and empowering to those who have socio-economic barriers that restrict their opportunities. The curriculum increases people’s understanding of environmental problems and solutions, prepares them for environmental careers, and empowers them to become positive and passionate leaders in their communities.

The curriculum resonates with our students that come from marginalized backgrounds because of everything that you mentioned - the content, teaching methodology, and how the instructors are trained.

Roots of Success responds to the need to create living wage jobs and career pathways for residents in communities with high rates of poverty and unemployment and to promote sustainable development. We do through our comprehensive approach to curriculum content that strengthens core academic skills, increases people’s understanding of environmental problems and solutions, prepares them for jobs and career pathways in multiple sectors of the economy and, to improve conditions in their communities. The popular education methodology that the Roots of Success curriculum is based on focuses on student success, making learning relevant, building on prior experiences, and connecting education to employment. All of the Roots of Success instructors are trained to use these teaching methods and are provided with materials that integrate classroom discussions with videos, visuals, group activities, oral presentations, and professional development exercises to keep participants engaged and increase their understanding of environmental problems, solutions, and green jobs while strengthening basic academic and professional skills.

Hi Raquel and Chad,

As a fellow environmental educator, I wonder how adaptable Roots of Success is for different contexts, or if the curriculum is best delivered as written. I noticed that the video highlighted several Roots of Success instructors; do these folks work for Roots for Success, or do they take the curriculum back to their respective programs?

Thank you so much for sharing more about Roots of Success with us! It sounds like an incredible curriculum and program and I'd love to keep learning more about it!


Fantastic question Melissa,

The Roots of Success curriculum is both flexible and adaptable for many different classroom contexts. It is flexible enough to be integrated into an existing class/program or taught as a stand-alone course. It is adaptable enough to be used in schools, youth programs, job training programs, prisons, jails, juvenile facili+es, reentry programs, and government agencies

Composed of 10 individual thematic modules, instructors can teach as many or as few of the modules as they choose to tailor the curriculum to their specific programmatic needs. Many instructors use the Roots of Success materials as the foundation of their classroom lesson plans, and integrate their own regionally specific or programmatically unique content into the curriculum. The combination of the Roots of Success comprehensive environmental literacy, academic literacy, and professional job readiness skills concepts and the instructor's existing lessons makes each Roots of Success classroom relevant and engaging in a unique and profound way. Our delivery system actively engages students in the learning process by design - the easy to use materials are interactive, innovative, and multi-disciplinary.

The individuals speaking in our video were participants in the Roots of Success "Train the Instructor" training and took the curriculum back to their respective programs. Once a program decides to use Roots of Success, staff work directly with the Roots of Success team to develop an implementation plan that includes instructors going through a one-day train “Train-the-Instructor” training program (professional development for instructors), where they receive all of the materials needed to teach the course and join a national community-of-practice composed of Roots of Success instructors in 36 states and 3 countries.

Below are some statistics on the impact the Roots of Success curriculum on student outcomes:
85% more prepared for job interviews
86% more comfortable working in teams
82% improved academic skills
96% will share what they learned with others
90% increased their professional vocabulary
97% more knowledgeable about green career pathways 93% interested in community engagement
97% would recommend the class to others
98% better understanding of environmental problems and solutions

Important to our team and the certified instructors in the schools and programs that teach Roots of Success are the career and life skills that are associated with the curriculum:
- Connects education to employment
- Prepares students for environmental and STEM-based careers
- Familiarizes students with over 150 green career ladders, industries, and sectors
- Integrates job readiness, financial literacy, leadership, civic engagement, social entrepreneurship

We are proud of the key features of Roots of Success that makes our materials so important for schools and programs:
- The training is professional development for teachers
- Meets the Common Core Language Arts Standards
- Includes lessons plans, rubrics, and assessments
- Can be integrated into an existing class or taught as stand-alone class
- Students receive an industry relevant certificate valued by employers
- College credit optional

One of the nation's most prominent professors of urban education Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education at UCLA, has this to say about the curriculum:
"Roots of Success is particularly well suited for young people who have struggled in school. The curriculum works because it is engaging, adaptable, easy to teach, works well for students with different learning styles, promotes collaboration, problem solving and student leadership.”

For more information take a look at the handout that is attached to this post, visit our website at, or give us a call at 510-470-0803. Please feel free to share our information and handout with any of your colleagues, partners, or community members that might be interested in integrating a tool like Roots of Success into their work.

PDF icon about_roots_of_success.pdf719.56 KB

Thank you Darryl for allowing the Roots of Success team to talk with colleagues around the country about how we can increase diversity and inclusion in environmental education settings. I hope this is the start of an ongoing exchange of ideas. In closing, I want to share two fundamental principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion that inform our work with Roots of Success:

1) People from heavily impacted and frontline communities must understand the root causes and radiating consequences of environmental challenges and injustices in order to fully participate in discussions and decision-making about how to address these challenges.

2) Preparing people who come from low-income communities for environmental jobs and career pathways is a win-win solution that lifts people out of poverty and improves environmental and social conditions.

Thank you for this opportunity. If any educators or staff wish to continue this conversation, please feel free to reach out to us at