Assistant Head of School Tom Stewart understands the importance of empowering students to make positive and lasting change. That’s why he and a team of IMS teachers and administrators use the spring term to engage ninth grade students in a study of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to the UN, these 17 goals call for countries to “mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities, and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.” Mr. Stewart notes that it is easy to associate sustainability simply with environmentalism, but the SDGs are also “about economics and about compassion and respecting people.” The non-environmentally driven goals range from enhancing education to reducing inequalities of all types.

Students are exposed to these goals beginning in September when they meet once a week in a course that introduces them to sustainable development in general and the Goals in particular. Throughout the year, the SDGs are also the lens through which students approach content in their sustainability science, English, and history classes. For example,
The Grapes of Wrath is presented as a book, in part, about an ecological disaster. Children learn that the Dust Bowl led to a mass migration of refugees, who faced discrimination and prejudice as they sought a new home and new life.

This academic framework breaks down classroom walls and creates a cross-curricular experience that allows students to enhance their global and cultural awareness. “It’s an interesting process,” explains Mr. Stewart. “After children learn about global issues as they are playing out in the world, the traditional science, English, and history classes dissolve and student teams are formed around potential design solutions related to one or more of the 17 goals.”


This year, for example, one group designed a system of turbines at airports that make use of the backdraft of jets to generate electricity to power the fleet maintenance vehicles. Using virtual reality, another group designed a way to build the same type of empathy for trees that we see for endangered animals to address the issue of deforestation.

During their final project, students investigate the components that lead to sustainable economies, governments, and societies worldwide. They also develop and practice 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and creativity. Groups collect and analyze data, develop design innovations and technical solutions to projects, and they become activists by finding creative ways to raise awareness about global issues.

Students reached the pinnacle of their study during on Friday, May 11 during the second annual IMS Poquonook Solutions Symposium. Groups presented their solutions to an impressive panel of industry experts (see below) who assessed the projects’ relevance and viability based on predetermined criteria, and provided feedback and recommendations.


In the wake of the Symposium, teams will incorporate the panel’s suggestions into their projects potentially earning an invitation to visit the United Nations General Assembly this coming fall.

2018 Poquonook Solutions Symposium Panelists:

Shannon O’Shea
2030 Agenda Partnership Manager and Team Leader, UNICEF

Sam Eaton
Filmmaker and Radio Journalist Focusing on Environmental Issues

Chris Cosslett
International Environmental Project Consultant

Liz Moyer
Former Program Manager at the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network

Josh Ellsworth
Brandeis University Lecturer in Sustainable Development