PSJA ISD campuses, departments unite to adopt United Nations' 17 Goals

District to continue providing real-world knowledge for students via curriculum 

PHARR – Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA ISD) schools and departments are uniting to systemically adopt the United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As part of these efforts, PSJA ISD will continue integrating the SDGs into its curriculum to equip students with pertinent real-world knowledge and hands-on experiences crucial to help them compete at a global level, during the 2023-2024 school year. 


First adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a shared blueprint for all developed and developing countries to take action to achieve a more sustainable future worldwide. At the heart of the plan are the 17 SDGs, which include goals on education, health, reducing inequalities, and driving economic growth while addressing urgent global needs on climate change. 

"We want to provide our students with a high-quality and relevant education that prepares them for the very real-world scenarios they will be facing when they graduate from our schools," said PSJA Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Alejandro Elias. "As one of the largest school districts in South Texas, it is our duty to prepare our students for the next level and help them make important connections beyond textbooks. All of the 17 SDGs are relevant in everything we do as a school district and community." 


PSJA ISD is already making strides with many of the 17 SDGs, including Goal 4, Quality Education, through its nationally recognized programs, and Goal 3, Good Health and Well-Being, districtwide through many of its city-school parks and annual participation in the It's Time Texas Community Challenge. However, its goal is to implement a more systemic approach to emphasize sustainability at every level starting the 2023-2024 school year. 


Currently, efforts to implement a districtwide sustainability approach are through trainings by a committee of district leaders comprised of numerous departments whose work directly connects to one or more of the 17 SDGs in collaboration with SOL Education Learning Group. SOL provides an in-depth instructional method that embeds 21st-century proficiencies/global (17 SDGS) into the state curriculum (TEKS) through a 3-tiered project-based learning system. 


"Great things happen when we come together to work towards a common goal," said Dr. Elias. "We want our students to not only learn about the 17 Sustainability Goals in the classroom but also see them at every level in our district. From the food they eat in our cafeteria, the bus they ride to school each morning, and eventually in every facility they use in any of our tri-cities. It all makes a difference." 



According to Executive Officer Claudia Gonzalez, who is among those leading the efforts to integrate the SDGs into the curriculum, instruction starts as early as Pre-K 3 where students may read folktales such as "The Little Red Hen" and make connections to the main character’s sustainable actions. Students then apply real-world learning by planting seeds in their school's garden. 


The district plans to implement ‘cross-pollination strategies,’ which may involve students learning about the Life Cycle through their Science curriculum and then making connections by going to the school's butterfly garden to witness caterpillars transform into butterflies. Then, through English Language Arts, students may be asked to develop their writing and grammar skills by writing an essay about their observations in the garden. 


Through collaborations with the Maintenance Department, many PSJA ISD schools currently have Outdoor Learning Classrooms, which include butterfly or vegetable gardens and ponds. Some also have city-school parks and trails. The district's Landscaping/Wildlife Habitat Specialist is also dedicated to helping schools learn about and preserve native wildlife habitats. 


"We want our students to be critical thinkers and help them make connections to the real world while also getting a high-quality and engaging education that meets the state expectations," said Gonzalez. “This approach will not only provide our students with relevant content knowledge but also give our teachers the opportunity to collaborate and have more freedom to be creative with their lessons.” 


These efforts are also in preparation for the Texas Education Agency’s STAAR Redesign, as a result of House Bill (HB) 3906 passed by the 86th Texas Legislature in 2019. The redesign is to be implemented in the state assessments administered during the 2022–2023 school year. 


At Marcia Garza Elementary in Alamo, the sustainability goals are already connected to lessons, and classroom walls at every level can be seen displaying anchor charts with the 17 SDGs for students to make connections. 


“It doesn’t matter if a child is 4 or 5 or 10; they can be world changers,” said Marcia R. Garza Elementary Principal Marisa Santoy. 

According to Santoy, teachers strategically have students read stories and make connections to the Sustainability Goals. For example, a story about a female judge emphasizes Goal 5: Gender Equality. Science classes discuss Goals 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water), and 15 (Life on Land). 


At the 4th and 5th-grade level, students research problems that fit into one of the Sustainability Goals and come up with a solution to help reach that goal. One student designed a model of a playground for children with disabilities that achieved Goal 10, Reduced Inequalities. In May, students at some elementary schools will get to present their Capstone Projects at a sustainability fair. 


“It creates more rounded, critical thinking,” said Santoy. “It gets them thinking on their own, rather than being told what to think. Learning a la fun.” 



In addition to PSJA ISD, the cities of Pharr, San Juan, and Alamo are also working to emphasize sustainability. The City of Pharr is adopting the sustainable development goals by bridging the digital divide, partnerships, and overall greener measures. 


At the higher-education level, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Office for Sustainability is dedicated to achieving the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The US Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools is a federal recognition program that recognizes educational institutions for their sustainability practices. 


“As a tri-city school district, it’s great to see the three cities and other institutions also making efforts to recognize the importance of sustainability. We look forward to collaborating and working together, Goal 17 (Partnerships to Achieve the Goals), to become one united front to educate our students and make a bigger impact,” said Dr. Elias. “We want our students to not only learn about the 17 Sustainability Goals in our classrooms but also see them at every level in our district and community. From the food they eat in our cafeteria, the bus they ride to school each morning, every facility they use in any of our tri-cities, and ultimately as they move on to pursue a post-secondary education. It all makes a difference.” 


In addition to making a difference for their community and region, by being cognizant of the 17 Goals, students will not only have invaluable real-world knowledge but will also gain a competitive edge in the workforce, according to Dr. Elias. Many national and international corporations are pledging to move towards sustainable efforts like General MotorsApple, Google, and Coca-Cola, to name a few. 


“The future is in sustainability. Through these efforts, our students will be truly ready to excel and compete at a global level,” said Dr. Elias. “They will not only be very aware of the issues affecting our world but have the education, skills, and experience to stand out in the workforce.”