Alison Suffet Diaz, an attorney turned educator who taught for several years in a large comprehensive, traditional public high school, founded Environmental Charter Schools (ECS) in 2001. At the time, Alison observed far too many students falling through the cracks without a supportive community or lack of connection to school content. As many disengaged students who could have otherwise achieved a high degree of success dropped out, Alison researched factors associated with successful educational turnarounds. She concluded that when students were informed and empowered to make change in their own communities, it positively impacted their academic achievement, pursuit of higher education and the desire to further their impact in the world.
This laid the groundwork for the development of a small community paired with rigorous, relevant and engaging curriculum and community partnerships as the keys to educational success. Environmental Charter High School (ECHS) was developed with these success indicators in mind and aimed to serve students’ needs not typically addressed in the larger high schools.
Opening its doors in August 2000 with only 100 students and four classrooms, ECHS began a path to improve educational opportunities in the South Bay and surrounding communities. From 2001 to 2005, enrollment grew and it became clear that the ECHS model was producing significant academic gains. The community demand for an “ECHS-like” learning environment serving lower grade levels increased. Environmental Charter Middle School – Gardena opened in August 2010 and Environmental Charter Middle School – Inglewood opened in 2013. In Spring 2020, ECS was approved to open its second high school, Environmental Charter High School – Gardena, with plans to launch for the 2020-2021 school year.
ECS campuses are alive—with more than 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables, a living stream, school-wide composting and solar-powered greenhouses. ECS sites offer students and teachers a living platform to explore campus-wide solutions to current real world challenges.
Today, ECS is a network of free public schools that serve students in south Los Angeles County. Its mission is to reimagine public education in low-income communities of color to prepare conscious, critical thinkers who are equipped to graduate from college and create a more equitable and sustainable world. The ECS approach focuses on college preparation and environmental and community engagement through interdisciplinary instruction, small learning communities and community partnerships. This approach results in students who are prepared for college, motivated to continue learning and desire to positively contribute to their community.