The collaboration between the school and the community started from the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute which organised and planned the theoretical framework of the program implementation and assisted the development of the individual programs with the volunteering educators from each participating school. The educators also received 2 month training that prepared them to organise their community’s program; introduced them to teaching techniques used for engaging the community in the process of teaching and learning; helped them become familiar with different ways and practices for the development of collaboration between groups and institutions, introduced them to techniques of drawing from the local potential and engaging local actors. In continuation teachers and students worked together for choosing the particular topic for their project, organized outdoor observations, as well as investigations and discussions in the community in order to decide jointly the issue of investigation. As already mentioned the nature of the participants’ contribution as well as the combination of the collaborating actors was different in each school depending on the program itself and the type of collaboration with the Community or Municipality that each school chose to establish. For example, local authorities participated in the collaboration by offering financial support and by facilitating access to the community in order to ensure an implementation without any distractions and obstacles. Wherever possible the Municipality services worked together with the school like for example for the creation of the park. The local population participated in this collaboration and their most valuable contribution was the transfer of their expertise and the local wisdom for the community program implementation. The different professional groups offered practical support and guidance according to the selected topic. Public services operated as suppliers of information, expertise and provided to the schools and the program’s partners the support they needed for implementing the planned actions in the community and the school. Parents participated with their children in common actions and activities for the program implementation e.g. participation in field trips, helping students to collect needed information, working together for the creation of the herb garden / park.
What is important about the schools’ and local communities collaborations on SD issues of mutual interest, in that within the framework of their actions they worked having in mind that the improvement of their community would lead to an equivalent improvement of their quality of life and that this could only be made possible through collective efforts. Additionally, these efforts do not concern solely the environmental protection and conservation but also the development of solidarity, ecological integrity, collective effort for a common benefit and ensuring a sustainable future. The founding values for the development of the collaboration included respect, responsibility, equity, participation, the right to live and principally the right to shape ones’ local environment in a creative, constructive and specially sustainable way. Particularly for ESD, the collaborations were based on the vision of establishing a new framework of learning through school’s opening to the community and through using outdoors settings in school and the community as principal educational and pedagogical tools. This process resulted in a promotion of intergenerational communication and interaction, created effective communication networks amongst various key actors and established contemporary pedagogical approaches that can assist the assimilation of the fact local action is the most powerful starting point for global action and shaping the sustainable world for which we are all responsible and have a role to play.
Common groups and committees were formed by all the partners, for the development of the collaboration, the dissemination of the efforts outcomes. These groups and in general the programs partners had regular meetings with the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute (CPI) so as to answer any queries, and clarify the ways that the communication and collaboration would be developed. CPI also reinforced educational skills where needed, concerning ice braking activities, getting acquainted activities, becoming familiar with the way the collaboration amongst the partners and the community works, (getting to know each other and becoming familiar, games). Collaborations were expected to last for one year, same as the intervention planned. In many schools though this collaboration is still in operation and has undertaken more, new issues of common interest. In essence, this program formed the basis for becoming aware of the importance these collaborations have and prepared the ground for the expansion to more issues about the environment and sustainable development within the community, or even other issues of common interest. Within this framework any changes in the collaborations concerned the expansion of the collaboration consortium.
The collaborations developed were founded on the principles of authenticity. This is evident from the fact that the program duration exceeded its expected life spam of one year and continued for three and four more years engaging the partners in the exploration of other sustainable development issues and integrating new members. Further on the design, the implementation and the emerging results were a valuable starting point for the development of the EE/ESD curriculum for Cyprus which is founded on the idea of the sustainable school and schools’ connection to the local communities for ESD.
The collaboration viability is attributed to: a) the fact that the community operates as a connecting knot, b) the recognition of the value of their own role, activation and contribution has to the achievement of issues of common concern, c) to the fact that the collaborations resulted to interventions that operated as catalysts for change with respect to the scrutinised issue, d) to the fact that schools and communities constitute two open systems that can jointly achieve common objectives and bring about commonly sought changes, e) to the fact that the new EE/ESD Curriculum structure is founded on the connection of schools with the local communities for ESD.
The collaborations were assessed one year after the programs completion, by means of various research tools, such as a) reflective diaries for the registration of data about the collaboration (educators responsible for the program implementation were keeping the records); b) questionnaires before and after the program implementation for school as well as for the directly involved program partners, e.g. parents. Finally the evaluation of the collaborations resulted to the identification of exemplary case studies which would be published as examples to other schools. The results of these collaborations have been presented in various international conferences and published in academic journals: A) Symeou, L., Zachariou, A. & Valanides N. (2007). Environmental Action Education Programs in Community: The Experience of Cypriot Parents. Education Studies, 4, 197-211. Β) Zachariou, A. & Symeou, L. (2008). The local Community as a Mean for Promoting Education for Sustainable Development. Applied Environmental Education and Communication: An International Journal, 7(4), 129-143.
The collaboration networks developed between schools and community, promoted scientific learning as an important prerequisite for the experimental processes employed for the exploration of the issues. Partners had the opportunity to engage and become familiar with the principles of scientific investigations.